Princess Elizabeth's Spy
by Susan Elia MacNeal



Bantam, 2012. ISBN 978-0-553-59362-4.
Reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
Posted on 09/18/2012

Fiction: Historical; Fiction: Mystery

There's a new author in town and she has a terrific mystery series. Book two, Princess Elizabeth's Spy, follows protagonist Maggie Hope on a new mission as a "babysitter" to heir to the throne Princess Elizabeth. The time is World War II; the place is Britain under attack. Maggie has struggled to pass field-testing so she can become an MI5 agent and is determined to make herself useful. Her talents are many and her cryptography skills are consummate, so you can imagine her horror and dismay when she gets pulled from her training class for a "special assignment" as undercover protector and math tutor for the young Princess. Her dream of acting as an intelligence gatherer for the Allies at the British Front is shattered.

Muttering under her breath she accepts the onerous assignment and goes off to Windsor Castle where the young princesses are sequestered for the duration of the war. Maggie has to figure out how to get along with the staff and to find out how she can best carry out her assignment. It isn't long before she discovers that the household is in great disarray and there may very well be a conspiracy in place that will threaten the entire royal family. Murders, spies and, yes, mayhem, ensue!

Susan Elia MacNeal's book is entertaining as well as quite knowledgeable of Britain in the 1940's. Those of us who have grown up with a Britain with Queen Elizabeth II on the throne will be enchanted at this look at the young Princess who was mature beyond her years, fully aware of her place in history, and already possessing a strong sense of Britain's purpose. As an anglophile, I have found the depiction of the young princess in line with historical documents and stories, though it may seem otherwise to new readers of this series. Elizabeth is far more mature than children of her age in these days and her dedication and sense of future strongly present.

As the reader gets to know Princess Elizabeth and her younger sister, Princess Margaret, we also get a birds-eye view of inner workings of the staff at Windsor. As with the popular TV series "Downton Abbey," we are fascinated with how households worked in the past. MacNeal shows the staff as realistic people, struggling with families, war issues and the hierarchy of working for royalty. With the onset of rumors of an uncomfortable nature, including a member of the staff's Germanic background causing her to be detained for questioning and a traitor somewhere in the castle, the pace picks up for Maggie and the dangers become more tangible.

The characters in this book, and in Mr. Churchill's Secretary (the first book in the series) are interesting, believable and multi-dimensional. Several characters are continued from the first book and MacNeal continues to flesh them out and increase our understanding of Maggie and her friends. Right from the prologue (a fascinating conversation with the Duke of Windsor and his wife, the former Wallis Simpson) the reader will be intrigued by the plot. Throughout, although our sympathies and attention lie with Maggie Hope, we are drinking from the fountain of MacNeal's extensive learning and research into the time period. Perspectives on Churchill, the royal family, Bletchley Park, and the strong, vital British women of World War II are great reading. Of course, Maggie was raised in the US, which is great for the American readers as we can claim her as well!

One of the bugaboos in my reading life is authors who never allow their characters to grow and change, who are afraid to disturb the status quo of a popular format. I see MacNeal as avoiding that in future books of the series (the third book, His Majesty's Hope, is due out in April of 2013) by continuing to play to both the strengths and weaknesses of her characters. I have formed firm opinions about both the fictional and real characters in Princess Elizabeth's Spy, and came away from completing this book longing for the next one to be published.


Susan Elia MacNeal is the author of the Maggie Hope Mystery series from Bantam/Random House, including Mr. Churchill's Secretary, Princess Elizabeth's Spy, His Majesty's Hope and yet-untitled book #4. She graduated cum laude from Wellesley College, with departmental honors in English Literature and credits from cross-registered classes at MIT. She attended the Radcliffe Publishing Course at Harvard University. Visit her website.

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