This third outing for Maggie Hope is a much more complicated work than the previous two. Maggie has been longing for action, feeling stifled and constrained by her last two assignments. When offered an opportunity to be a spy behind the lines, she literally jumps at it... parachuting from a plane into Germany.
Reading this story from the 21st century perspective, it is difficult sometimes to remember the restrictions on women's activity in war during WWI and WWII. It wasn't until the Second World War that the shortage of men began to elevate women to a position they should have had all along: next to the warriors, not just in the valuable nursing and factory positions, but in the action.
Maggie is well trained and ready, willing and able to carry out her assignment: a quick in and out, deliver radio crystals, bug a Nazi office, and dash home. Of course, that doesn't happen.
This is a series best read from the start, in order to watch Maggie's developing skills and learn about her background. Raised in America by an aunt, born in Britain to British parents, she started her career as a secretary for Winston Churchill. Her family story seems to be fraught with secrets and not a few mysteries, and all these background stories are given in the first two books, enlarged upon in the third. Why was her aunt so reluctant to share the family's history? Why was her father at Bletchley Park? What happened to her German-born mother?
Some of this story is difficult to absorb. We all have heard the stories of Nazi atrocities, and their euthanasia program, which encompassed the handicapped (including children), can be disturbing to read. Yet the German Resistance gets good exposure in MacNeal's book as well, which helps the reader feel that not all Germans were Nazis, and even in the German military there were those who struggled with the Nazi brutalities. It is a more historically serious book than the previous two, yet I eagerly turned each page, finding the story compelling, and the characters believable.
For me, the only difficulty was a rather large number of coincidences surrounding Maggie's situation in Germany. The people she meets accidentally seem to be the very ones she needs to find. The nurse, Elise (who struggles with the concept of the children being bused by the Nazis from hospitals to the facilities in which they are taken, unknown to their families, for euthanasia), is the one person that can help Maggie resolve her task, and the enigma of their relationship seems rather fortuitous. Yet the ongoing backstory of Maggie's past, and the stories about what her friends and co-workers are up to in London help smooth over the incongruities. MacNeal's excellent writing and plot structuring make the book a joy to read, even with the minor chaos of the plot. Looking forward to book number four!
Susan Elia MacNeal is the author of the Maggie Hope mysteries, including Mr. Churchill's Secretary, Princess Elizabeth's Spy, and His Majesty's Hope. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and child. Visit her website.
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