Mr. Churchill's Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal

This first novel in the series featuring Maggie Hope takes place at the beginning of the Battle of Britain in World War II. Although born in England, Maggie has been brought up by her aunt outside of Boston. Excelling in mathematics, her studies at MIT have been postponed so she could go to London to sell her deceased grandmother's home, a grandmother she hadn't even know about. Once in London and unable to sell the house due to the then-imminent war, Maggie decides to stay and support her native country against its worst threat.

Red-haired and outspoken, Maggie is lucky in her friends, who recommend her for a position at Number 10 Downing Street. Her American candor comes to the fore when she is passed over for the job of principal secretary and relegated to the typing pool. Principal secretaries, like her friends David and John, are men of good family destined for high ranking positions in the government.

With a high level clearance and taking dictation from Winston Churchill himself, she has insight into the war effort that she cannot share with her housemates: Paige, a Southern belle friend from college; Sarah, a ballerina hoping to move up to a solo role, and the flighty twin sisters, Annabelle and Clarabelle. Just as she is settling into her job, Maggie is caught up in a mysterious plot to undermine England's government during its time of greatest danger, one that touches on her own family.

Maggie's adventure moves quickly, with something for everyone: well-researched details about the war, lively nightclubs, beautiful Worth gowns, a doomed love affair, a nuanced portrait of Churchill, sparkling characters, plenty of suspense, and a resounding climax.

If you like Call the Midwife and Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, you will like this book.

There are a few missteps in the first half of the book. Published by Bantam, I'm surprised their editorial staff didn't catch them. They aren't misspellings or incorrect grammar. Rather, they are consistency errors, a not-uncommon danger when the writer knows what she means but hasn't made it clear for the reader. Such errors are usually caught early by your beta readers or critique group.

For example, at one point Maggie is talking with her friends David and John. After some conversation, suddenly Churchill says something, where previously there was no indication he was in the room. Then when David and John leave the room they are followed out by another colleague, again someone we hadn't been told was in the room.

In another example, two men are arguing over an envelope. The man who was holding the envelope the last time it was mentioned demands that the other man hand it over. Button, button, who has the button?

Such lapses happen easily enough, especially in the last stages of cutting to get a manuscript down to size. It's important to have a final consistency check done by someone unfamiliar with the manuscript. Some authors read it backwards or aloud to prevent their eyes from skipping over problems like these.

Don't let these few instances keep you from reading the book. It's a rollicking ride with plenty of authentic detail and characters you'll want to follow in the other books in the series.

What's your favorite mystery series?

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