Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: Princess Elizabeth's Spy

The indomitable Maggie Hope from Mr Churchill's Secretary is back in a new adventure where Princess Elizabeth bites a Nazi:

Genre: Historical
POV: Third Person Omniscient
Detective: Maggie Hope - American mathematician and spy
Setting: WWII England
Fusspot Inner Great Aunt Sexy Times Alarm: As unobjectionable as a blancmange 

Maggie Hope, who we last saw dismantling IRA bombs in St. Paul's Cathedral, has flunked out of spy school. Brilliant mathematician she may be but her superiors think it unlikely that she'd be able to outrun a toddler in the field. Demoted, she is sent packing to Windsor Castle to play Jane Eyre to the young royal princesses.

Princess Elizabeth: Badass
Between teaching the young princesses secret codes, Maggie is tasked with smoking out a spy in the hallowed royal halls. She isn't there long before a gruesome murder alerts her to the fact that something is rotten in Windsor Castle. And it isn't the turnip pie.
I would recommend Princess Elizabeth's Spy to: Fans of the brilliant Foyle's War television series. Although less in this book than the first, there are lovely details about life on the home front. This book is much more spy vs spy than Mr. Churchill's Secretary. Maggie fights the oppressive bureaucracy and sexism of MI-5 to get the pieces of the puzzle she needs to save the country from a terrible plot. There's also the wrenching news that John, her love interest from the last book, is MIA in Germany. And Hugh, her new potential gentleman caller and handler from MI-5, embroils her further in her parent's personal drama (highlight for spoilers: Her German-spy mother killed Hugh's father. So, some potentially awkward Christmas dinners for sure).

I would not recommend this book to: People who loathe omescient third person. Unfortunately, I am one of these people. Shifting multiple POVs in a mystery novel can be done effectively. It can build suspense (you see the villain closing in on our hero and they are running out of time!) or help the reader piece together parts of the mystery that the detective will never have access to (Ah. So that's why Mr. Pickett knit his cat a sweater).

But if clumsily handled, it can be an unending source of frustration as the reader end up thinking the detective is a class A idiot for not figuring it out sooner. Or the entire book becomes an excruciating plod until the detective catches up to where the reader has been patiently waiting for chapters and has already eaten most of the narrative picnic.

The plot also got a little twee and out of hand for me (highlight for spoilers: With the king getting shot and then Princess Elizabeth, Maggie and David being kidnapped and then shunted onto a Nazi submarine before escaping the middle of the channel by the Royal Navy but not after Princess Elizabeth bites a  Nazi). Consider my credibility stretched.

If you like the Maggie Hope Mysteries: Try the brilliant thriller Enigma by Robert Harris. Set in the English code-breaker headquarters at Bletchley Park, it features the brilliant mathematician, Jericho, who is recovering from a nervous breakdown after a love affairs turned sour. When his former lover disappears and is branded a spy, Jericho is determined to discover the truth in the matter and discovers a dark conspiracy that could bring down the entire British war effort.

Also made into a fantastic movie featuring Kate Winslet in the cutest 1940s glasses you've ever seen.

Solve all the crimes, Kate Winslet
And what does one drink while undercover tutoring Princess Elizabeth and hunting double agents?

Why, Keep Calm and Carry On tea, of course.

Final Grade: 6/10

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