November 06, 2012

A secretary becomes a spy

By Susan Elia MacNeal
Review by
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Princess Elizabeth’s Spy is Susan Elia MacNeal’s tense second novel featuring MI5 secret agent Maggie Hope. In this installment, Maggie is sent for MI5 training to become a hands-on operative after leaving her job as a typist in Sir Winston Churchill’s wartime stable of aides.

After months in an intense program, Maggie wants be sent abroad for front-line intelligence gathering. Instead, her training and longtime expertise in mathematics lead her to a position as tutor to the 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth at Windsor Castle. However, Maggie’s real job entails keeping eyes and ears open undercover, alert to a possible Nazi plot against the Royal Family. With its stringent wartime atmosphere—and despite legions of Coldstream Guards marching about—the assignment at Windsor proves a dangerous one, with a passel of suspicious characters in residence at the castle. Maggie is able to make headway in unmasking a double agent while her math skills enable her to spot and decode some encrypted messages.

A snappy, addictive book set in wartime Britain.

The depiction of wartime Britain is fascinating, from the glimpse of a querulous Duke of Windsor sunning in Portugal, to the daily activities of the Royal Family, to a beetle-browed Winston Churchill planning espionage from his bath. Details like this give the story a romantic, as well as fact-based, flavor.

Princess Elizabeth’s Spy is a snappy, addictive book, although it lets down at the finale with a less-than-credible rescue mission and an unsurprising villain. Maggie’s turbulent relationship with her father—also an undercover agent—and her romantic entanglements form a crucial sub-plot, but “super spy” Maggie often appears to be a loose cannon in Britain’s network of experienced, hardworking intelligence officers when she’s unable to keep her personal life at bay.

A preview near the book’s end hints at a danger-filled drop behind enemy lines in Maggie’s next espionage adventure. We’ll be rooting for her to earn our confidence—and help the Allies win the war.

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Princess Elizabeth’s Spy

Princess Elizabeth’s Spy

By Susan Elia MacNeal
ISBN 9780553593624

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