Mr. Churchill's Secretary is a debut novel introducing Maggie Hope, whose parents were British, but who was raised in America. Maggie arrives in London in 1939 to settle her grandmother's estate and sell her grandmother's house. In September of that year, Britain declared war on Germany, and Maggie, who has made friends decides to stay and aid the war effort.
Winston Churchill replaced Chamberlain as PM in May of 1940, and when one of Mr. Churchill's secretaries is murdered, Maggie is able to fill the opening, which puts her in a unique position at the heart of Britain's decision making. Although Maggie is a mathematics whiz who postponed her entry to M.I.T. to settle her grandmother's estate, her skills are not needed in her current position...which is not to say, of course, that they will not be employed in the novel.
The historical information is interesting, and MacNeal's research as far as secretarial duties includes the memoir Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Elizabeth Layton Nel and a correspondence with Mrs. Nel. She also cites works by other Churchill secretaries and Churchill's own memoirs of the period in the Historical Notes at the end of the novel.
The inclusion of IRA activity and links between the IRA and Nazi sympathizers and undercover agents operating in Britain was interesting. There were, however, some historical inaccuracies that bothered me, especially concerning MI5.
Murder, spies, secret codes and code breakers, a little Bletchley Park, the Battle of Britain and the nightly bombing, the safe guarding of St. Paul's Cathedral by the Fire Watch...
Bothersome: Maggie seems a little too modern for the time period and her mathematical brilliance didn't quite gel for me. Some of the characters took up time, but did nothing to really advance the characterization of other characters or the plot. The mystery concerning the death of Maggie's parents (can't say much because of spoilers) didn't ring true in many ways.
On the whole, the novel is a light, enjoyable read, but by no means as good as Winspear's series about Maisie Dobbs or the Charles Todd novels about Ian Rutledge. The characters are not as well developed, the writing isn't as smooth, the events and history are not as well blended. The second in the series is Princess Elizabeth's Spy due out in October.
Fiction. Historical Mystery. 2012. 384 pages.