Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal

Maggie Hope, who was introduced in Susan Elia MacNeal's debut mystery "Mr. Churchill's Secretary" returns to continue her code breaking/building expertise--this time as a "maths tutor" to young Princess Elizabeth.  Once again the setting is World War II in England.  Maggie has been accepted as an MI5 agent, but has not been able to pass the physical part of the training to enable her to serve as a "spy" behind the lines.  MI5 does not want to insert her via parachute into enemy territory if they can't be sure she has the proper survival skills.  Instead, they send her to guard the young Princess Elizabeth, heir to the throne.  The Princess, along with her sister Princess Margaret Rose, and her governess Margaret Crawford (Crawfie) has been sequestered in Windsor Castle, away from the bombings in central London.

MI5 suspects a plot to harm the princess and wants someone on site.  Maggie is ostensibly there to instruct the Princess in "maths".  When the young lady objects to maths as being dull, and of no use, Maggie teaches her about encoding messages, and shows her how important this is for the conduct of the war.  Later, this information will save the Princess' life. In the meantime, a basket full of suspicious characters appears at the castle to generate different possible dangers (real and imagined) in Maggie's mind.  Since know one knows exactly what the plot involves, or has any idea of who or when, the reader is treated to an entire Greek chorus of possibles.

As with the first book in the series, the characters are well-drawn and give us an insight into what life what like for the British populace undergoing the hardships of bombings, rationings, and worry about loved ones.  The setting shows MacNeal's zeal for detail, and excellent research into the period.  The plot however, still gives me pause.  If the reader can step back and simply accept the story as a good whodunnit, it's loads of fun, with lots of twists, and some thrilling suspense scenes.  But it really took a great deal of suspending belief on my part to accept some of the implausible situations which develop.  The book ends with a satisfactory ending to the current situation, but definitely points to another story coming for Maggie's "next assignment."  The underlying basis for the assignment is the real surprise at the end of the book.  Readers will have to read it on their own.  My lips are sealed.   It's fun, it's a quick read, and it's pointing to more.

Many thanks to Bantam Dell of Random House for making this available as a e-book for review through Net Galley.  I also listened to the audio version I purchased from Audible.  It was delightfully narrated by Susan Duerden whose ability to impart each character with a new voice and accent makes the audio thoroughly enjoyable.

Author: Susan Elia MacNeal
Publisher/Format:  Random House (Bantam Dell) egalley; audio: Random House audio
Narrator: Susan Duerden
Copyright: 2012
Subject: espionage, code breaking MI5
Setting: London, Windsor Castle England
Series: Maggie Hope
Number of pages: 384; 11 hours audio
Why did I read this book now? I enjoyed the first one and this one was available for review.


  1. I just finished the first one which I downloaded on my Kindle Paperwhite from the state library. I enjoyed it. It was fun with some real suspense. I've got this one on my wish list.

  2. Sounds like you're enjoying this series as much as I am!


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