Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal (2012)

Genre: Historical Fiction
Interest Level: Adult
Mr. Churchill's SecretaryA spirited heroine, a wartime-era London setting, and superbly researched details make this romantic mystery an overall winner. Think Nancy Drew for adults. It’s a first-time novel for MacNeal, who is already at work on the second tome in the series. From the generally welcome reception at Goodreads, she’s launched a successful franchise. Born in Britain but raised in the U.S., Maggie Hope gives up doctoral studies at MIT to deal with the sale of her grandmother’s house in 1939 London. Slow realty sales come to a halt when war is declared. Despite the poor coffee and threat of danger, Maggie decides to stay, taking a position as a typist at 10 Downing Street, ultimately working for Mr. Churchill himself. It’s the best job she can get as a woman, where the powerful simply dismiss her mathematics degree, cryptography skills and interest in game theory. It drives Maggie nuts, and she doesn’t hide her opinion from anyone, making her an enjoyable protagonist. Her romantic interest is understated (think Ned with Nancy Drew), and MacNeal’s historical facts are exquisite, from Anderson huts to music and movie stars, adding a rich level of detail to the novel. I remained puzzled by the mystery (and did not fall for the too-obvious red herring) and generally thought the plot advanced realistically until the last 75 pages or so – honestly, how many times can one woman face death in a day? According to the afterword, her agent worked hard to get someone to take this novel seriously, leading me to shudder at what must have been the original manuscript. The editor apparently did as much as she could, and the result is overall well worth her effort. If you can forgive the occasionally clumsy writing and plotlines, there’s a lot to enjoy here.
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