As promised yesterday, my review of the next Maggie Hope Mystery debuts today, the day it will also be available in stores and online. To recap the first three books, be sure to check out yesterday’s post with those reviews. Without further ado…
The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent by Susan Elia MacNeal
Bantam, 2014. Trade paperback, 320 pages.
After Maggie Hope’s return from her first mission, her experiences haunt her. Instead of returning to spying, she takes at job as an instructor at one of the Special Operations Executive training schools. During her months there, Maggie develops a reputation as a tough teacher, but unknown to her trainees, she suffers from nightmares. When her friend Sarah Sanderson (introduced in Mr. Churchill’s Secretary) invited Maggie to a production her ballet company is putting on in Glasgow, tragedy strikes. The female lead dies on stage after suffering from an illness. Soon Sarah and another dancer also come down ill. When MI-5 becomes involved in the investigation, Maggie teams up with agent Mark Standish (also introduced in Mr. Churchill’s Secretary) to track down the murderer and the cause of the mystery illness.
In a parallel story, readers see the inner workings on the intelligence community leading up to the attack at Pearl Harbor. Decrypts that seem to point towards an attack are sent to Prime Minister Churchill and his staff from Bletchley Park. In the United States, the same messages are decrypted by the Army and Navy Intelligence divisions. However, warnings from both sources fall on deaf ears in the American government. Additionally, we see how the British are secretly developing chemical weapons on Churchill’s orders and the ethical debate about their use. Near the book’s end, the two story lines collide and we see how the American entrance into the war effects the British government and intelligence community.
A third story within the book is that of Clara Hess, the Abwehr agent, continued from His Majesty’s Hope. While I cannot provide details without spoiling the plot of two books, I can say that this story line is psychologically heavy and seems to set up something for the next book.
Over all, this book was darker than the preceding books. Maggie wrestles with demons that effect her personal and professional life. It is only once she begins the investigation into the mystery illness that she comes to a realization that changes her outlook on the war. The book also opens to a slower start than the rest of the series, with its focus on the inner workings of the intelligence communities, the SOE training at Arisaig House, and Maggie’s mental state, but by the middle of the book this makes sense. That focus is needed to allow the rest of the story to play out. Again, historical details and cameos by real individuals are masterfully interwoven and supported by an excellent bibliography.
I cannot wait until book five comes out, hopefully next year (sooner would be better1). It will be titled The First Lady’s Confidant.
I have the Library Marketing Division of Random House to thank for my advance copy of this book.