Tuesday, July 06, 2021

The Hollywood Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal

First Line: It was 1943 and America was at war.
When Maggie Hope's former fiancé, John Sterling, asks for her help, Maggie can't say no-- even if it does mean traveling from London to Los Angeles in the midst of war. The woman Sterling was engaged to was found floating dead in the pool at the Garden of Allah Hotel, and Sterling doesn't believe Gloria's death was an accident.
Maggie barely begins to investigate when she knows Sterling is right. Gloria's death was not an accident. She didn't slip, hit her head, and fall into the pool to drown. But in proving Sterling's fiancée was murdered, Maggie is going to find herself traversing the darkest side of L.A., the side no one would ever see in a Disney film, and her life will be in danger.
Maggie Hope had a lot to deal with in the previous book in this series, The King's Justice, and this trip to Los Angeles is just what she needed. Los Angeles. Hollywood. Sunshine. Beaches. Palm trees. Walt Disney. Movie stars. It's almost idyllic... until Maggie begins investigating the death of John Sterling's fiancée.

The Hollywood Spy is a book in which the mystery is intriguing, but it's not the star of the show. The star is actually the dark underbelly of the city of Los Angeles. As I read this, I was chilled by the parallels between Los Angeles in 1943 and our country in the last few years. Segregation on steroids. Race riots. The Ku Klux Klan with its filthy fingers into so many political pies. Enlisted men being given baseball bats and told to bust up as many non-white heads as they could. The police looking the other way. Reading "the cops and the Klan go hand in hand" made my blood run cold, and I can only imagine how MacNeal felt as she was writing the book. There are scenes in The Hollywood Spy in which I felt as though I'd fallen down the rabbit hole to hell.

Maggie is her usual strong self, and I was cheering her on at the end of the book as she laid down the law to some officious jerk, but in many ways, I think the mystery in The Hollywood Spy was weakened by its setting. There was a real feeling of menace as Maggie was followed around the streets of Los Angeles, and I liked her shock at being back in a segregated country, but... there just happened to be a chance for Maggie to show off her codebreaking skills. There was more than one minor character who was obviously going to play a pivotal role in the action, almost as though they had neon signs over their heads...
Now, it sounds as though I spent my time reading and nitpicking, but I didn't. My mind would make note of these things, but my mind was also enjoying the fast-paced story a great deal. Maggie Hope is one of those characters who I'd follow anywhere. Her intelligence and bravery make each book in this series shine, and The Hollywood Spy is no exception. Susan Elia MacNeal has crafted a book that will have readers not only enjoying the characters, the mystery, and the danger, but also learning a lot about Los Angeles in the 1940s. (And those Author's Notes at the end are a must for her research and a suggested reading list.)
Will Maggie be staying in Los Angeles? No. She's got another interesting assignment waiting for her. And now here it comes again: the long wait until I meet her again.  

The Hollywood Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal
eISBN: 9780593156933
Bantam Books © 2021
eBook, 352 pages
Historical Mystery, #10 Maggie Hope mystery
Rating: A-
Source: Net Galley


  1. Hmmm. I'm half Irish or nearly that and my relatives were from the Republic.

    One amusing anecdote: My father's grandmother who was from Sligo married an Englishman. They were of different religions. My father said every day each told the other the Irish (or the English), the Catholics (or the Protestants were bound for Hell.

    That was their marriage, called an "intermarriage" in Ireland. When one died (after 50 years together), the other was deeply depressed. The complications of marriage.

  2. The one thing that strikes me in this review, Cathy, is how eerily similar the Los Angeles of this novel is to today's world. It's heartbreaking how little some things have changed. The book itself sounds very good, though, and it sounds as though MacNeal does a good job depicting the setting and context.

  3. It's amazing to me how much the world, and this country, has changed over the decades, but how easy it is for all of us around the world to be sucked right back into the same old problems we've always had - and thought we were done with. I like books set during the war years (just about any war) on the home front. Sounds good.

  4. I love learning about history in the context of a good story! Sounds like this one was a bit heavy.

  5. You've got me intrigued. And Maggie sounds like such a great character! I'll have to check out the first book in this series. :)

  6. This does sound good (sigh). LA's political scene during the 1940s sounds like quite a tough one.
    By the way, in my activist days, I heard that slogan about the cops and the Klan chanted.


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