Finest Hour 182, Fall 2018
Susan Elia MacNeil, The Prisoner in the Castle: A Maggie Hope Mystery, Bantam, 2018, 320 pages, $26. ISBN 978-0399593826 Portrayal *** Worth Reading ***
Michael McMenamin and his son Patrick are co-authors of the Winston Churchill Thrillers The DeValera Deception, The Parsifal Pursuit, The Gemini Agenda, The Berghof Betrayal, and The Silver Mosaic.
The Prisoner in the Castle is the eighth Maggie Hope Mystery. This one has Maggie a prisoner in a castle on a remote Scottish island where the government confines Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents who know too much. It is 12 November 1942 when the novel begins, and Maggie has been there since 22 June 1942. The book is vague as to what exactly Maggie knows, but it includes “The secret of Pas-de-Calais and Normandy and the invasion of occupied Europe.” Well, Maggie does not really know about Normandy because in June 1942 the selection of Normandy as the location for the invasion of Europe had not been made and was not to be made until late 1943 after the Tehran Conference.
For those who have not read the previous book in the Maggie Hope series, The Paris Spy, this may be a bit off-putting. In that book, Maggie is in Paris as an SOE agent in June 1942 at Churchill’s behest to find out who is betraying SOE agents in the field to the Nazis. Maggie does find out, and she is locked away because the truth involves a deception the Allies intend to use once the D-Day location is chosen. This deception Mattie refuses to condone. You really should read The Paris Spy first if you want to understand why she is a prisoner. I suspect that MacNeal did not say more about precisely why Maggie is locked away in The Prisoner in the Castle because it would be a spoiler for The Paris Spy.
The fact that Maggie is a prisoner in the castle is not even known to Churchill. The plot itself is a reprise of a British country-house murder mystery where SOE agent prisoners on the island are being killed one by one by a Nazi double agent, while Maggie’s friends in MI-5 and Scotland Yard are trying to find her because she is needed as a witness in the murder trial of a serial killer.
MacNeal is back up to three stars for her portrayal of Churchill, since there is no repeat of the myth from The Paris Spy that Churchill “let Coventry be destroyed in a Luftwaffe attack to protect the secrets of Bletchley Park.” If you liked the earlier books in the series, you will enjoy this one as well. There will be more to come. It is only November 1942 after all. Lots more for the SOE to do.
Novels are rated one to three stars on two questions: Is the portrayal of Churchill accurate, and is the book worth reading?