Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Review: The Prime Minister's Secret Agent by Susan Elia MacNeal

Maggie Hope Mystery # 4
Publisher: Bantam
Publication Date: July 1st, 2014
Pages: 306


For fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, and Anne Perry, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent is a gripping new mystery featuring intrepid spy and code breaker Maggie Hope. And this time, the fallout of a deadly plot comes straight to her own front door.

World War II rages on across Europe, but Maggie Hope has finally found a moment of rest on the pastoral coast of western Scotland. Home from an undercover mission in Berlin, she settles down to teach at her old spy training camp, and to heal from scars on both her body and heart. Yet instead of enjoying the quieter pace of life, Maggie is quickly drawn into another web of danger and intrigue. When three ballerinas fall strangely ill in Glasgow—including one of Maggie’s dearest friends—Maggie partners with MI-5 to uncover the truth behind their unusual symptoms. What she finds points to a series of poisonings that may expose shocking government secrets and put countless British lives at stake. But it’s the fight brewing in the Pacific that will forever change the course of the war—and indelibly shape Maggie’s fate.

What Did I Think About the Story?

The Maggie Hope mysteries are one of my favorite historical fiction series to read, not only because of the intelligent, resourceful and determined main character but because of the unique and historically informative viewpoints they give to readers. Maggie has brought us into the belly of No. 10 Downing Street, through the corridors of Windsor Castle, onto the training fields of secret MI-5 facilities and behind enemy lines in Berlin.  Mixed in with the historically accurate key players and circumstances we also get to feel along with Maggie as she experiences love and loss during these uncommon situations and singular time period. In this fourth installment we find Maggie healing from the horrific things she has witnessed and the losses she isn't quite ready to deal with. This is a Maggie we haven't really seen before and, to be honest, it isn't my favorite side of Maggie to see.

From the beginning of The Prime Minister's Secret Agent a shroud of depression and exhaustion seems to hang over not only Maggie but the British people. They've been staying strong for so long as  bombs (both literal and figurative) have rained down on them, but without an end in sight and without much hope that America will join them in bringing down Hitler, their stiff upper lip seems to be slipping. I hated seeing Maggie so down and unhappy, battling her "black dog" of depression and PTSD for much of the novel. The mystery of why and how her friend became so sick gives her something to do, but not much else really happens to Maggie during the story. More time was given to the real-life American and Japanese people surrounding the bombing of Pearl Harbor, an action that sets up Maggie's journey to America with Churchill in the next installment, than was given to any real development on Maggie's part. This isn't to say that seeing the politics behind the eventual bombing of Pearl Harbor wasn't interesting, it just wasn't what I was expecting or wanting from a Maggie Hope novel. I wanted more Maggie!

This being said, there were a lot of interesting elements that kept me turning the pages.  We get to learn a little bit about floriography, poisoning and secret British testing with biological warfare.  We also get to see Churchill begin to unravel somewhat and see what he's willing to sacrifice to win this war. Best of all, in my opinion, is the storyline dealing with Maggie's mother, Clara - a  Nazi spy due to be executed by the British for her crimes - and her multiple personality disorder that might be real and might be just another manipulation by a master manipulator. This element really helped solidify my understanding of Clara's backstory and made her even more interesting than I already found her. And let me just say the cliffhanger at the end of the novel involving Clara has me ready to jump into book number five ASAP!

In many ways, The Prime Minister's Secret Agent felt more like a transition between novels than a novel itself. The concentration is more on getting the Americans involved in the war than developing Maggie's character and, while it is still an enjoyable novel, it didn't satisfy my need for the character I've come to love in Maggie. I should also note that anyone new to the series could easily pick this book up and be caught up with previous events within the first few chapters (Susan Elia MacNeal does an exceptional job of weaving the backstory in so you never feel like you're missing something) but I would definitely recommend starting with book one as each book in the series is quite enjoyable. The set up for the next novel in the series sees Maggie ready to travel back to America, not only with Churchill but with her friend David and her old flame John, and I very much look forward to seeing Maggie on her old stomping grounds, to meeting the aunt who raised her and to hopefully seeing some old friends from previous novels that didn't make it into this one. And with the cliffhanger ending I mentioned above, it's shaping up to be quite the adventure!


What Did I Think About the Cover?

I quite like the design and think it fits in very well with the rest of the series. However, I'm not sure that it fits in very well with the actual story. Maggie looks perfect but I'm not sure who the soldier is supposed to be. She wasn't following around any particular soldier this time around, so while it fits with the time period it doesn't really remind me of this books particular sequence of events.

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

The Prime Minister's Secret Agent was a personal purchase and my review is in no way influenced by anything or anyone else. 

To check out the Maggie Hope series on Goodreads go HERE

Has anyone else read the Maggie Hope series? If so, do you have a favorite?


  1. I love this series. So far, I have only been able to read two of them. Wishing for more time!

    1. You and me both, Carol, you and me both! If only we didn't have to sleep we could read more :). I hope you get the chance to read the rest of the series and enjoy it as much as I have!