July 27, 2017

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 51

Review by Michael McMenamin

Susan Elia MacNeal, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, Bantam, 2015, 352 pages, $16. ISBN 978–0804178709

Portrayal ***
Worth Reading ***

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante is the fifth book in the Maggie Hope Mystery series and is easily as good as, if not better than, the first four novels. Maggie is back as Churchill’s secretary and accompanies him on his post-Pearl Harbor visit to Washington. Churchill wants her not only for her typing and Special Operations Executive (SOE) training, but also to translate for him, as Maggie has been raised in America, and, in Churchill’s words, the United States and Great Britain are “Two nations divided by a common language.”

One of Mrs. Roosevelt’s young female secretaries is murdered early in the novel and made to look like a suicide. In the process of solving the murder, Maggie uncovers a plot by Southern isolationists to blackmail and tarnish the First Lady’s reputation with accusations of sexual improprieties on her part towards the dead secretary, who has seemingly left behind a damning suicide note claiming Mrs. Roosevelt’s behavior toward her was the reason she killed herself. There are also subplots involving the Nazis’ V-1 and V-2 rocket program, the pending execution in Virginia of an innocent black man wrongly convicted of murder, and—for good measure—a visit by Maggie’s former RAF lover to Hollywood to meet Walt Disney about making propaganda cartoons (and conveniently get her ex out of the way so Maggie can rekindle a romantic friendship with a journalist with whom she went to college).

Historical characters are plentiful and well drawn. Churchill, FDR, and Eleanor Roosevelt have major roles. Fritz Todt and Werner von Braun make appearances in the rocket program subplot, including a scene where, under pressure from Berlin, a V-2 rocket is finally launched successfully without exploding or going off target. Also appearing in this context are Lord Cherwell (Frederick Lindemann, also known as “the Prof”), who is skeptical about the German rocket program, and Churchill’s son-in-law Duncan Sandys, who is not.

The scenes between Churchill and FDR are especially good, as are the scenes between FDR and his wife. The same is true of Churchill’s press conference in the White House, his remarks at the lighting of the White House Christmas Tree, and his address to a joint session of Congress. The Hollywood scenes with Walt Disney are also enjoyable and remind you of what a remarkable talent he was.

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There is a sixth novel now out in the series, The Queen’s Accomplice, set in 1942 London, where a Jack the Ripper copycat is killing female SOE agents. As Churchill is not a character in the novel, however, it will not be reviewed in Finest Hour. Nevertheless, if you enjoyed any of the other Maggie Hope novels, you will like this one as well. It focuses on the women of the SOE, including the fact that their pay and benefits were substantially less than the men, though their responsibilities and the dangers they faced in the field were certainly equal. There will be a seventh Maggie Hope Mystery out later this year, The Paris Spy, which has Maggie back in the SOE and on her way to France to find out who is betraying SOE agents in the field to the Nazis. If Churchill makes an appearance, FH will review it, but do not miss it if you like Maggie, even if Churchill is otherwise engaged.

Novels are rated one to three stars on two questions: Is the portrayal of Churchill accurate and is the book worth reading?

Michael McMenamin writes the “Action This Day” column. He and his son Patrick are co-authors of the award-winning Winston Churchill Thrillers series The DeValera Deception, The Parsifal Pursuit, The Gemini Agenda, and The Berghof Betrayal, set during Churchill’s Wilderness Years, 1929–1939.

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