“You grew up in America, after all — exactly what do you know about British aristocracy?”
“Not much beyond the historical, I’m afraid,” Maggie said.
“All right, impromptu quiz — what do you say when you meet the King and Queen?”
Maggie gave David a wry look. Frain had forgotten about royal etiquette lessons. “Hello?”
David smacked himself on the head. “Oh, my dear Eliza Doolittle — we have a long night ahead of us.”
(from Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, page 52)
Princess Elizabeth’s Spy is the second Maggie Hope Mystery, set in World War II London. There are no spoilers in my review of this book, but proceed with caution if you haven’t read the first book, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary.
In Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, Maggie Hope is no longer a typist for Winston Churchill. She has proven that her intelligence, math and problem-solving skills, and ability to handle herself in dangerous situations make her an asset to the war effort, and she is now a spy with MI-5. The Nazis have a plan to put the Duke of Windsor, who abdicated the throne to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson, back on the throne once they invade England. Because this plan may involve kidnapping Princess Elizabeth so she cannot become queen, Maggie is assigned to Windsor Castle, where princesses Elizabeth and Margaret are living to avoid the bombs falling on London.
Maggie is a bit disappointed that she will be serving as a math tutor while undercover, rather than being dropped into France or Germany, but she soon finds that danger lurks on the castle grounds. A lady-in-waiting is murdered, and decrypted German code is found in one of her books. While Maggie sorts out the mystery, she also must figure out how to build a relationship with her father, deal with not knowing whether the man she loves is alive, and contend with her feelings for a co-worker.
Susan Elia MacNeal’s novels may be set during a time of fear and devastation, but they are delightful and riveting. Maggie navigates grief and danger with grace, and I just love how she is not afraid to speak her mind, particularly when it involves men in positions of authority who don’t value or respect women. As in Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, Maggie is feisty and strong, but this time around, she also shows her sensitive side, and the way she fumbles her way through Camp Spook makes her feel real.
MacNeal certainly has a talent for developing characters, even those based on real people. I loved getting to know Princess Elizabeth, a.k.a. Lilibet, as a 14-year-old girl. Readers get to see her embarking on a romance with Prince Philip, learning the responsibilities she will have one day as queen, standing strong during wartime, playing with her beloved corgis, and even arguing with her little sister.
MacNeal also brings Windsor Castle to life. Paintings and books may have been put in storage, blackout curtains may have been hung from every window, and the dungeon may have been transformed into a bomb shelter, but the castle is still imposing and rich with history. Readers get lost in its vastness right alongside Maggie, and the inner workings of the castle, from the relationships among the servants to the princesses’ daily schedule, are fascinating.
Princess Elizabeth’s Spy is a light mystery, but MacNeal’s love for London and the World War II era are evident throughout. This is the kind of book you read for the history, the strong female lead, and for the page-turning excitement. I am hooked on this series and am anxiously waiting for the third book, His Majesty’s Hope, due out in the spring.
Disclosure: I received Princess Elizabeth’s Spy from Bantam for review.
© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.