Sometimes you need an escape from the outside world, and books can take you away to another place and time. A good mystery can do that, and the three authors highlighted this month have each written a series set in a different era, with a female protagonist in an interesting profession.
Susan Elia MacNeal set her Mr. Churchill’s Secretary in 1940 London. Maggie Hope is a young American woman, all set to attend prestigious MIT in Massachusetts when she is called to London to oversee the sale of her late grandmother’s home.
With the looming war, Maggie is unable to sell the house, so she stays in London and finds work as a secretary for Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Maggie had her sights set on working in British intelligence, using her education in math to help break German codes, but as a woman that avenue is closed to her.
There is a mystery to Maggie’s life. For some reason unknown to Maggie (or the reader), British intelligence is keeping tabs on Maggie. At the same time, she discovers something about her dead father that puts her in the middle of a dangerous situation.
Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is a fast-paced and well-researched novel. McNeal reveals in a Historical Note at the end of the book that she came upon the idea while touring the fascinating War Cabinet rooms in London, and researched the women who worked there. (Don’t skip this interesting section.)
Maggie is a wonderful character, and several times in the book, MacNeal had me audibly gasping as she put Maggie in some tight situations. If it was a movie, I would have spilled my popcorn many times.
MacNeal plunges the reader into wartime London, and you get a real sense of what it was like to live with the terror of bombs descending on the city where you live. MacNeal has six more more books in this terrific series, with a seventh due this August, and I can’t wait to read them all in succession.
Radha Vatsal’s debut novel, A Front Page Affair, takes us to 1915 New York City, as Capability (what a great name!) “Kitty” Weeks is working as a reporter on the fashion and society pages for the New York Sentinel newspaper.
Kitty really wants to cover the hard news stories, something that women just weren’t allowed to do. While covering a society party on Long Island, a man is murdered and Kitty is the only reporter on the scene.
She takes advantage of her position and works to discover why Mr. Cole was murdered. Was he having an affair with a married woman? Did he owe money to someone shady?
As Kitty delves deeper into the murder mystery, she discovers that her father (like Maggie Hope’s) has something he is hiding. The murder mystery may also have something to do with a wartime conspiracy, and Kitty uses her wits and education to unravel the truth.
Kitty Weeks is an intriguing protagonist, and the jailhouse scene is tense and well done. Vatsal’s second book in the series, Murder Between the Lines publishes in May, and her interest in female silent film directors is supposed to be a running theme in her books, which is unique and interesting.
Victoria Thompson writes about turn of the 20th century New York City in her Gaslight Mystery Series, featuring midwife Sarah Brandt. The first book in the series, Murder on Astor Place introduces us to Brandt and NYPD Detective Sgt. Frank Malloy.
As a midwife, Sarah has seen many women die in childbirth. But while on one house call to aid in a delivery, she stumbles upon a young woman who has been murdered. The woman comes from a well-to-do family, a family that Sarah knows well, but they seem uninterested in why or how their relative died.
Sarah meets Sgt. Frank Malloy, a widower with a young son. Since the murdered woman’s family is interested in the case, Malloy decided he has other more pressing issues. Sarah pushes Malloy to work the case and insinuates herself in the investigation, and a friendship blossoms.
Thompson has written 18 books in the series, all set in New York neighborhoods, such as Murder in Chinatown and Murder in Little Italy, and her series has an avid fan following. If you are a New York City history buff, the Gaslight Mystery Series gives you a true look at a growing city.
Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal- A+
Published by Bantam Books
Trade paperback, $15, 306 pages
A Front Page Affair by Radha Vastal-B+
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark
Trade paperback, $15.99, 312 pages
Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson-B+
Published by The Berkley Publishing Group
Trade paperback, $15, 268 pages