cover image Mr. Churchill’s Secretary

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary

Susan Elia MacNeal. Bantam, $15 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-553-59361-7

A plucky heroine isn’t enough to salvage a plot overly dependent on contrivances, as shown by MacNeal’s debut set in 1940 London, the kickoff to a series. The murder of Diana Snyder, a secretary in Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s office, creates a vacancy that American expat Maggie Hope agrees to fill, despite her umbrage at having been previously passed over for a more substantive position there. Maggie adjusts fairly quickly, even as the people of London strive to withstand both German bombs and IRA outrages. Since those behind Snyder’s fatal stabbing as well as their motive are identified early on, the suspense mainly lies in whether Maggie will be able to use her intellect to foil a plot aimed at decapitating the British government. On several occasions, disaster is averted purely by chance, undermining efforts to credit Maggie with saving the day. Agent: Victoria Skurnick, Levine Greenberg Literary. (Apr.)