The author of the Maggie Hope Mystery series
writes about KBO, cocktails, code-breaking, and red lipstick.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Raise a Glass of (Scottish) Gin to THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT

"You're going to Scotland and you don't like whiskey or play golf? Isn't that kind of a waste?" 

No. No indeed.

I may not drink whiskey (or whisky) or play golf for that matter — but it truly was one of the best trips of my life.

I fell in love with Scotland.

The Scottish trip was to research my newest Maggie Hope book, THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT. I spent a week in Edinburgh and then a week in Arisaig (on Scotland's west coast, near Port William). 

The week in Edinburgh was to research a plot line featuring Sarah Sanderson (remember her from MR. CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY?) Well, Sarah's still touring with the Vic-Wells Ballet (the precursor to the Royal Ballet), when a bevy of ballerinas become ill with a strange disease — or is it foul play? 

Meanwhile, Maggie — completely gutted from her last mission to Berlin where she did a number of unsavory things and is facing the moral fallout — is back at her old training camp in Arisaig, this time as an instructor. 

Here's where things get interesting. The actual manor house where the SOE (Special Operation Executive) agents trained is now a bed and breakfast, called Arisaig House. So I was not only able to go to Arisaig House, tour the buildings and walk the grounds, but I was able to stay there.

Readers, I loved it.

I saw exactly where all the agents did their paramilitary training. I saw the bridge they pretend bombed, the huts where the ammunition was kept, the beach where they threw grenades. ("You might see the odd grenade — they wash up on shore occasionally," said the gardener.) There are memorials to the brave women and men who trained there both at Arisaig House and also in the town of Arisaig.

Meanwhile, I was the only guest at the inn, so the family who runs it (and their three golden labs) pretty much adopted their odd American novelist for the week. I felt like an exchange student. It was fantastic.

Now, I might not be much for whiskey, but I would like to raise a glass today to toast Scotland — and I'm going to create a summer cocktail, using gin. 

Yes, gin.

Gin's having a bit of a renaissance in Scotland, with small-batch, handcrafted boutique gins using indigenous Scottish herbs and spices. Hendrick's is getting better known here in the U.S. (a gin that tones down the juniper flavor in favor of notes of cucumber and rose) — but there are others also worth seeking out, such as Edinburgh, Botanic, and Caorunn.

And so, without further ado, I'd like to present a summery cocktail, perfect for sipping while reading THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT — The Arisaig, a variation on the classic Gin and Tonic.

The Arisaig Cocktail

Here's what you'll need for ingredients:

2 parts Scottish gin (or any gin, really — but humor me)

2/3 parts freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 part Elderflower liqueur (I'm partial to St-Germain, but I hear the Bitter Truth is excellent)
Mint leaves
Cucumber slices to garnish

Tonic water

And here's what to do:

Add mint to glass and break with muddler. Add ice. Add other ingredients. Top with tonic and give it a still. Garnish with cucumber slice.

And, as they say in Gaelic, SlĂ inte!

FROM THE PUBLISHER: For fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, and Anne Perry, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent is a gripping new mystery featuring intrepid spy and code breaker Maggie Hope. And this time, the fallout of a deadly plot comes straight to her own front door.
World War II rages on across Europe, but Maggie Hope has finally found a moment of rest on the pastoral coast of western Scotland. Home from an undercover mission in Berlin, she settles down to teach at her old spy training camp, and to heal from scars on both her body and heart. Yet instead of enjoying the quieter pace of life, Maggie is quickly drawn into another web of danger and intrigue. When three ballerinas fall strangely ill in Glasgow—including one of Maggie’s dearest friends—Maggie partners with MI-5 to uncover the truth behind their unusual symptoms. What she finds points to a series of poisonings that may expose shocking government secrets and put countless British lives at stake. But it’s the fight brewing in the Pacific that will forever change the course of the war—and indelibly shape Maggie’s fate.

“You’ll be [Maggie Hope’s] loyal subject, ready to follow her wherever she goes.”O: The Oprah Magazine

THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT is available at your local independent bookstore, library, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

HIS MAJESTY'S HOPE nominated for ITW Thriller Award

Thrilled (sorry, couldn't resist) to say that HIS MAJESTY'S HOPE has been nominated for an ITW Thriller Award.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

HIS MAJESTY'S HOPE nominated for Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award

I'm honored to say that HIS MAJESTY'S HOPE has been nominated for Left Coast Crime's Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award.

It's an honor to be in such fantastic company, especially fellow Jungle Red, Rhys Bowen.

A big thank you to readers/editors German 20th-century historian Ronald J. Granieri and Blitz-survivor and Berkeley professor Phyllis Brooks Schafer.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Keep Calm and Read On

Thank you, Random House Library Marketing for including MR. CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY as one of the picks for the "Keep Calm and Read On — Downton Abbey Readalikes" poster! (See article here.)

Love the poster? Want one for yourself? You can either order or download from here!

Thank you Crimespree and AudioFile Magazines!

Happy 2014, everyone! Don't forget to drop by Jungle Red Writers to see what's going on in the mystery novel community. ("It's like The View, with bodies.")

I'm also honored and proud that His Majesty's Hope was named one of AudioFile's Best of 2013 and one of Crimespree's Favorites of 2013.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Jungle Red Writers!

So thrilled and honored to be joining officially the group The Jungle Red Writers, a group of mystery writers who blog on books and, well, pretty much everything.

The group is described as: "8 Smart and Sassy Crime Writers Dish on Writing and Life. It's The View. With bodies."

The Reds are bestselling novelists Julia Spencer Fleming, Lucy Burdette, Hallie Ephron, Rhys Bowen,  Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Deborah Crombie. And now me, too!

Do drop in and visit!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Churchill's Reaction to Reported Gay Scandal

Winston Churchill's reaction to a reported gay scandal: "Makes you proud to be British, doesn't it?"

Read the full story, narrated by the magnificent Stephen Fryhere

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Winning the Barry Award, and Remembering Barry Gordon

Thank you so much to Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine for awarding Mr. Churchill's Secretary the  Barry Award for Best Paperback Original at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany on September 19th.

I didn't have the privilege of knowing Mr. Barry Gordon, but from the esteem the mystery writing community holds him in, I can only imagine what a kind and generous person he must have been.

It's a true honor to accept this award in his name.

Friday, September 13, 2013

SNEAK PEEK: The Cover of The Prime Minister's Secret Agent, Maggie Hope Mystery #4!

The cover art for The Prime Minister's Secret Agent is by amazing illustrator Mick Wiggins, who has created the art for all the Maggie Hope novels. Check out his fabulous website here. (In awe of his talents, as I can barely manage stick figures....)

The setting is Arisaig House, a manor house on the coast of Western Scotland, which was a SOE spy training camp during World War II. Now it's a Bed and Breakfast, and I was privledged to stay there last January, to do research. Here's a photo of the outside of the house:

The Prime Minister's Secret Agent is scheduled for release in June of 2014.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Announcing Maggie Hope Books #5 and #6!

Thrilled to announce that Maggie Hope will continue her adventures, begun in Mr. Churchill's Secretary, with as-yet-untitled books #5 and #6!

Thank you, Levine-Greenberg Literary Agency and Random House!

(Sesame Street's "Queen of Six" to celebrate....)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Nominated for Two Macavity Awards — Holy Jellicle Cats!

See the list of this year's nominees here, including the marvelous Daniel Friedman (Don't Ever Get Old) — we share one very proud literary agent, Victoria Skurnick at the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency!

(Of course, now have the T.S. Eliot/Andrew Lloyd Webber song, Macavity the Mystery Cat, stuck in my head....)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Maggie Hope's a Cover Girl!

Thank you Mystery Scene Magazine and Oline Cogdill for the sneak preview!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mr. Churchill's Secretary Nominated for a Barry Award!

Thrilled to announce that MR. CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY has been nominated for a Barry Award, given by Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine.

The award is named in honor of the late mystery reviewer Barry Gardiner. From the Deadly Pleasures web site:

In 1997, the editorial staff of Deadly Pleasures decided that since one of the magazine's stated goals was to search out and report on the best works being published in the field of crime fiction each year, it would be a natural fit to present awards for excellence. Then came the dilemma of what to name the award. At the time all associated with the magazine were still reeling from the untimely death of Barry Gardner, who was arguably the best fan reviewer on the planet, so it was decided to name the award after him so as to keep his memory alive (not unlike what Bouchercon and its Anthony awards have done for writer/critic Anthony Boucher, who also suffered an untimely and early death). 

Monday, March 25, 2013

First Review of HIS MAJESTY'S HOPE

This. This is why I write.

"[MacNeal] doesn’t shy away from showing humanity at its most flawed.  There is love and desperation all through this story, and I adored every moment of it, even as I sat on the edge of my seat, worried for the characters who had become real to me."

Read the full review by Rebecca Lane Beittehere. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Thank you again, Oprah!

Thank you, for selecting Princess Elizabeth's Spy as one of your "7 Compulsively Readable Mysteries (for the Crazy-Smart Reader)!

Honored to be in such amazing company.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mr. Churchill's Secretary Nominated for a Dilys Award!

Delighted to say that Mr. Churchill's Secretary has been nominated by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association as the mystery title of the year independent mystery booksellers love hand-selling.

Holy cats!

Thank you!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mr. Churchill's Secretary Nominated for an Edgar Award!

Delighted to announce that Mr. Churchill's Secretary has been nominated for an Edgar Award, in the category of "Best First Novel by an American Author"!

The Edgars (formally known as the Edgar Allan Poe Awards) are awarded each year by the Mystery Writers of America, for distinguished work in the mystery genre: novels, television, and motion pictures. 

This year's ceremony will be on Thursday, May 2, 2013 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City. Dress is "dress to kill."

I'm humbled and honored to be in such distinguished company. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Oprah Loves Maggie has named Princess Elizabeth's Spy "Book of the Week" and an "unputdownable mystery."

With deft, empathic prose, author MacNeal creates a wholly engrossing portrait of a coming-of-age woman under fire. Whether you read Mr. Churchill's Secretary, the first installment in this series, or you're just making Miss Hope's acquaintance, she'll draw you in from the first page. By the end, you'll be her loyal subject, ready to follow her wherever she goes—especially through the pages of a third installment.

Read more:

Princess Elizabeth's Spy also made the New York Times Trade Paperback Bestseller list and will be translated into Chinese! 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Keep Calm and Have Faith

I recently learned from the wonderful blog World War II in Color about Faith, the Church Cat of St. Augustine's in London, who was awarded a medal for bravery during the Battle of Britain, for shielding her kitten during the Blitz. JR at World War II in Color says it better than I ever could:

"This is Faith, church cat at Church of England (Episcopalean) Church of St Augustine's and St Faith's, Watling Street, London. She was awarded the Dicken Medal in Silver, and a silver medal from the Greenwich Village Humane Society of New York, for her her courage in sheltering her kitten (Panda - he was black and white) in a hidey-hole in the rectory basement, to which she had retreated from her more comfortable position upstairs, in the course of a severe bombing raid on the night of 9 September, 1940. The church and rectory were, basically, battered and burned to destruction by the Luftwaffe, but Faith continued to shield her kitten, under a heap of smouldering rubble, until rescued by her human friends the following day. Shortly afterwards, the remainder of the church fell down, destroying her position of refuge. Faith resumed her life as church cat, dying peacefully some years later on her mat in front of an ecclesiastical fireplace. The kitten, Panda, went on to a successful career as resident cat in a care home. Yes, I know - this will seem silly to many In Here. But consider. Apart from the fact that it is true, Faith's story became widely known in London at the time, and must have contributed to the morale of many hard-pressed Londoners. Her courage and endurance reflected something that Londoners hoped to find in themselves - and generally did. I am a cat person, by the way ... Best regards, JR."

Monday, August 20, 2012

"O.M.G., Mr. Churchill!"

Not only is the expression O.M.G. over 100 years old, but it's one Winston Churchill knew.

In a letter dated 9/9/17 Lord Fisher wrote to the Right Hon. Winston Churchill: "I hear a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis — O.M.G! (Oh! My God!). Shower it on the Admiralty!"

Just goes to show — sometimes language that sounds modern really, like, isn't.