Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal

First Line: The midday summer sun in Lisbon was dazzling and harsh.

Adolph Hitler is determined to conquer England, and a plot is set in motion to get King George VI and his family out of the way so the much more amenable Duke and Duchess of Windsor can assume the throne. In the mean time Maggie Hope, recently promoted to MI-5 from Winston Churchill's secretarial pool, has washed out of the physical part of her training in Scotland. Sent back to London, she is dismayed when she learns that she's to go to Windsor Castle to be the math tutor to fourteen-year-old Princess Elizabeth-- until she's told of both the plot and the fact that the young royal's life may very well be in danger.

Her first day in Windsor Castle doesn't bode well. The place is war-time austere with many of its furnishings and treasures packed away for safekeeping. The castle is huge, cold, damp and drafty with endless corridors that make getting lost easy. When Maggie finally finds the dining room that evening, she's given a dressing-down because she isn't properly attired, and the ladies-in-waiting who have the rooms closest to hers are a gossiping, judgmental lot.

Fortunately the princesses are much easier to deal with, and Maggie does find a person or two with whom to become friends. She's going to need all the help she can get because hardly any time passes at all before it's very clear that someone does mean the royal family harm. Maggie needs every bit of her quick wits to protect her young charge.

I really enjoyed the first Maggie Hope mystery, Mr. Churchill's Secretary, but this second book in the series grabbed me by the eyeglasses and wouldn't let me go until I'd turned the last page. Maggie still has her math smarts and quick mind for codes as well as her spirit. When standing her ground with her MI-5 superior or giving the dragon in the Windsor Castle dining room a piece of her mind or even when she tells her new handler what a waste of space he is, it's hard not to cheer aloud for a young woman who refuses to be treated as anything less than an equal.

It was just as much fun to read about Maggie and her interactions with the young princesses: Margaret theatrical and a typical younger sister, and Elizabeth, serious and conscious of her future role in life, yet still a teenager writing letters to a certain young man serving in the Royal Navy-- Prince Philip of Greece.

MacNeal has the knack of using real-life people as characters in her books and making them every bit as interesting as her fictional characters. There's nothing wooden or dusty or historical about Churchill or King George or the young princesses. Touring the corridors and dungeons of Windsor Castle is a treat, and so is seeing the ancient residence decked out for Christmas, but the best part of the book is the ending. Not everything about it is completely plausible, but it's so much fun that I don't really care. I refuse to say anything more except that I'd love to have Queen Elizabeth read Princess Elizabeth's Spy and let us know her thoughts about it!

The last chapter of the book sets up the third book in this series perfectly, and I can't wait until it's published. Maggie Hope has shown herself to be one smart woman. When told she's a washout on the physical part of her training, she incorporates running and other strengthening exercises into her daily routine. However, she is a young woman, and-- unless it has something to do with codes and cyphers-- she tends to think with her heart instead of her head. Will she have learned anything after protecting Princess Elizabeth? Only time (and the next book) will tell!

Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal
ISBN: 9780553593624
Bantam Books © 2012
Paperback, 384 pages

Historical Mystery, #2 Maggie Hope mystery
Rating: A+
Source: the author


  1. Cathy - An excellent review, for which thanks. I really do love the combination of history and mystery here, and I admire the talent of authors who can get readers excited about the next book before it's even out by building up towards it.

    1. She did such a good job of building that anticipation that, as I read the last page, I said (aloud), "Oh man, now I gotta wait!" *grrrrroan*

  2. I am loving this series, too! Can't wait for the next book.

  3. I've got to catch up!! I so want to read these!! :)

  4. I very much enjoyed Maggie in Mr. Churchill's Secretary, I'm glad to know that you like this one even better! I must move it up my TBR!

    Cool covers!

    1. The covers are quite striking, aren't they? :-)


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