The Queen's Accomplice
The Queen’s Accomplice is the sixth entry in the author’s World War II era mystery series featuring Maggie Hope, a former MIT mathematics graduate student and current secret operative for the British government. Over the course of the series Maggie has moved from working in Winston Churchill’s office to training in Scotland to missions in Windsor Castle, Berlin, and the White House. This time, Maggie is back in London, temporarily serving as a “Girl Friday” in a government office, but she’s soon involved in the investigation of a gruesome series of murders. At the core of the mystery, and many other threads in the book, is the issue of women’s role in society, and the changes that occurred with the advent of the war. This part of women’s history has always fascinated me, and Ms. MacNeal does an excellent job incorporating the mystery within the historical background. I normally prefer lighter historical mysteries, with only minimal graphic details. That’s not the case here as we get some vivid details of both the murders and the treatment of women prisoners of war. Despite some squeamish moments, I couldn’t put the book down; it’s one of my favorites in the series. As a word of caution, this review may offer spoilers for the preceding books in the series.
Through the previous five books Maggie has interacted with a large number of individuals. Many of the characters – including Maggie – have changed and grown over the series. I’ve read all the books so far and appreciate that the author doesn’t include extensive passages re-iterating the lengthy backstory of each of the characters when they appear in successive books. This does, however, mean that if you attempt to start the series with The Queen’s Accomplice some of these relationships will make no sense, and you’ll miss out on Maggie’s rather complicated backstory.
Maggie’s clerical job in one of the Special Operations Executive’s (SOE) offices is temporary while she waits for her half-sister to arrive from Germany. The men in the office, led by the director, meet repeatedly to discuss the “women situation.” They don’t approve of female SOE agents and of female undercover agents in particular; they’d prefer women stay at home and not work at all. In the director’s view, Maggie’s primary purpose is to bring him tea whenever he wants it. Fortunately for Maggie, she and a male colleague are quickly pulled in to assist Scotland Yard with the investigation of a series of murders. The targets are young professional women tapped to work with the SOE, and the killer is replicating Jack the Ripper’s techniques. Maggie is assigned to work with Detective Chief Inspector Durgin of Scotland Yard.
I like the introduction of Durgin into the series; he’s a good foil for Maggie. Initially Durgin is unhappy to have her working on the case, and she’s not impressed with him either. While Maggie focuses on facts, and mathematical patterns, Durgin goes by his gut instincts. Over the course of the book Maggie and Durgin come to appreciate each other’s skills and abilities, and eventually warm a bit to each other.
I liked a lot about this book. The setting is rich and vivid, conveying the difficulties women faced living and working in London in 1942. While a bit graphic for my tastes, I found the primary mystery interesting. At times, though, I felt there were a few too many different threads incorporated into the book, with some chapters told from other characters’ POV.
Without going into spoilers, I suspect at least some of the threads from this book will be continued in the next instalment. If you like mysteries that wrap up everything at the end of the book, this will not be satisfying. As for me, while I could have done with a few less threads, I’ll definitely pick up the next Maggie Hope mystery to see what happens next.