Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal has been on my radar for a while now, but the fact that it’s part of a series has made me loathe to begin (as I find it hard to read one book of a series without reading all the rest).
Maggie Hope is a British-born American who returns to Britain in order to settle some family business before returning to the states for school at MIT; she’s a brilliant mathematician. But it just so happens that her stay in London corresponds with the beginning of World War II, so she looks for work in codebreaking to help the Allied cause. Instead, she gets a position as one of Winston Churchill’s secretaries.
However, her work isn’t a straightforward matter. There’s the constant threat of German bombings, IRA meddling, and a killer on the loose. Add into this a mystery about Maggie’s own father and a romance in the making, and our heroine becomes enmeshed in British national security.
I liked the history in this book, how World War II is a backdrop against which the IRA (Irish Republican Army) threat, Nazi spies, and gender equality are all set. However, the book tries to do too much and ends up doing not enough.
Maggie might be British by family and birth, but she’s American in all that counts, and she brings a fresh perspective to her group of friends, who include David, John, Paige, Sarah, and Chuck. She’s spunky and smart, and I love that about her. I don’t love her predictability or the predictability of the love story (seriously, anybody could see the love-hate relationship between her and John from a mile away—but it is sweet; it could have been emphasized a bit more because although it’s predictable, it’s not entirely believable). Also, Maggie tends to be a bit..pompous really. She goes on ad nauseam about gender inequality which just seems out of place. And for being a genius, she certainly is stupid about some things (and people). Of the six friends, Paige, Sarah, and John are the most fascinating. One is a mystery wrapped in ballerina shoes, one is dark and brooding with unseen depths, and the other has layers upon layers, like an onion.
My biggest issue with the book is the storyline. While the plot is filled with action and danger, love and friendship (it really has it all), it’s not completely believable how Maggie happens to become a secretary to the prime minister and happens to see what apparently no other person in the government sees. On the other hand, there was a nice little twist in the plot that was immensely satisfying and that tied so many threads of the story together. But then, everything was wrapped up just a little too neatly.
I’m always up for a good quote:
“She wasn’t happy, exactly; she was still too raw for that. But she was satisfied. Satisfied and relieved, too, with maybe just a bit of joy thrown in for good measure. Yes, that was it. She’d made it through so much already. She knew now that she was strong. She’d survive. And she had friends and family to support her.”
But sadly, this quote sums up what was wrong with the book: too neatly tied up and rounded out. Where’s the struggle, the soul-shattering war-time realizations, the identity crises? They were there in words but not in feelings. She said she was raw, but I never felt it.
This book was fun, but shallow. The plot was engaging, but not believable. This is a book set around the turmoil of World War II, but I’ve felt more personal tragedy and pain in Kristan Higgin’s chick lit novels than I did in Mr. Churchill’s Secretary.