Title: MR. CHURCHILL’S SECRETARY
Author: Susan Elia MacNeal
Publisher: Bantam, 2012
Genre: Historical Fiction
London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for code breaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.
WHAT I THOUGHT
This book and, in fact, the series, states it is set in 1940s war-torn London, with Winston Churchill, spies, murder and intrigue. When what it delivers are endless descriptions of black-out curtains, the weather, and what everyone’s wearing. There are plenty of visits to pubs and social venues, but no one seems to actually work. And there is no real substantive details about these places, setting, or the era itself other than in passing. It’s as if the author thinks that she can just tell us this is war-torn London, and we’ll fill in the missing bits ourselves.
The result is there’s an utter lack of being ‘there,’ in war-torn London.
As for the murder-mystery part? Forget it. This could be a watered down version of Enid Blyton’s the Famous Five for all the action there is. Don’t get me wrong, people are stabbed and killed, but it’s all done ‘off-set’ as if actually describing the event might offend the reader. Take the scene where Nazi and German-sympathizer middle-aged Leticia is shot dead. In the book we’re told she just falls to the floor. And then, after a whole other section (of supposed action) later that we’re informed her husband shot his wife. It’s as about as emotive as someone describing loading their washing machine. And when Roger, the husband, is confronted and told to drop his gun, we’re given such excruciating dialogue as: “Blast it all!”
What? The man just casually shot his wife for no reason.
The same goes for the Sections involving the Irish/IRA bombers/spies who, we’re told, are killing innocent people and bombing the underground, because a parent was either beaten and or raped by the Black and Tans. Shockingly flimsy statements made without depth, background, or context. Fill in your own blank, as if this were a Steve Jackson role-playing fantasy.
MR. CHURCHILL’S SECRETARY is a badly-written contrived story, with paper-thin characters spouting unbelievable dialogue, who proceed to drink champagne and dance their way through poorly-plotted scenes, all to a backdrop of blackout curtains.
So twee, it was excruciating.