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

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ta da! The cover for THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE, Maggie Hope #6

Delighted to release the latest Maggie Hope cover! THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE (Maggie Hope #6) is coming out October 4, 2016. The cover illustration is by the incredible artist and illustrator Mick Wiggins.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

RIP Xander, a Very Good Cat and Excellent Writing Companion

“If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work … the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp … The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding.” 

~ Muriel Spark, A Far Cry from Kensington

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Writers and cats, right? Or maybe it's cats and their writers?

This week I lost my dear cat, friend, and faithful writing companion, Xander. If you've read any of my books, he was probably pressed up against my leg or on my desk for 99% of the writing, revision, and editing process. He was there for failures and successes, and when I heard about Oprah, I screamed — and I'm sorry to say scared him so much he peed on the floor.

Xander was a stray and had a hard life before we took him in. We used to call him "our little POW" because he had such post-traumatic stress disorder — and really didn't come out from under the bed for a few years! But he came into his own finally and became a confident and spirited member of the family. 

(While never really losing his grumpy-ness. I used to tell people he was like Lou Grant, from Mary Tyler Moore, in a cat suit. The Kiddo, a different generation, said he was Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation in a cat suit.)

And so we say goodbye to Xander this week. But don't be surprised if a little grey-and-white kitty shows up in a future Maggie Hope book....

Maggie's cat, pictured here on the Japanese edition of
is based on the late, great, cat, Mr. K.

A New Year, a New Beginning, a New Maggie Hope Novel

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: It's January of a new year and I'm starting a new novel — yet-unnamed Maggie Hope #7. Both the year and the book are pretty much a blank page —something I find inspiring and exhilarating — while also managing the accompanying anxiety and dread. You'd think having written six other novels would help with facing the blank page, but no — it's always a challenge.

So, what to do?

Well, I start with lots of research — books, documentaries. I especially like first-person accounts of the time from people, who were really there. Luckily, there are many memoirs from people in the French Resistance. Here's a powerful photograph I've found of Nazis performing outside of the Palais Garnier:

I think about my characters — where they are emotionally and physically after the last book. How much time has gone by? What is happening historically? I left Maggie in THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE in March of 1942. Do I pick up where I left off? Or do I let some time go by and start the story later in the spring? If I do start later, I can work in the Vel' d'Hv roundup of the French Jews on July 16, 1942. Ah, that's an idea....

Sometimes I need to work in pen and paper, not just on the computer. So I'll draw things out, especially how the characters are related to each other. Here's a picture I did recently.... The final book may not have anything to do with this drawing, but it's a start.

Through Hubby's airline points (he's traveled all over the globe working for Sesame Street International), I'm able to make plans for a trip to Paris. But my trip isn't just for seeing the tourist sites. It's for experiencing the Paris of the Resistance, SOE agents and Nazis in the spring/summer of 1942. Here's where my research meets guidebooks and the internet, as I try to come up with a schedule of must-see places and things to do off the usual path:

Address of Paris killer Docteur — 22 Rue Le Sueur

Gestapo headquarters – 93 Rue Lauriston

Avenue Fochs, #72 — where SS Colonel Helmut Knochen orchestrated the crushing of resistance forces 

#31 — Theodor Dannecker and Adolf Eichmann planned the Grand Rafle of 16 – 17 July in which over fifteen thousand Jews were taken to the Vel d’Hiver before eventually being sent to death camps.  

#84 — small servants’ rooms of a large villa. "In these cramped rooms on the fifth floor the legendary Violette Szabo, “The White Rabbit”, “Madeleine” and other British SOE agents were tortured until their upscale neighbors could hear their screams."

Sometimes, serendipity comes into play. I've corresponded with Colin Fields, the head of the Hemingway Bar at the Paris Ritz, for a cocktails book I wrote. He was gracious and lovely, and so, I'll send him a letter. Getting a backstage look at the Ritz Hotel would be amazing. I've also been chatting online with fellow novelist and friend Cara Black, who writes the New York Times-bestselling Aimée Leduc series of books set in Paris. As it turns out, we will be able to coordinate our trips to Paris! Watch out — two novelists on the loose in the City of Light!

Back to the blank page. I'm still staring at it, as the days of January tick by. In the words of fellow Red Julia, it's like having a term paper due all the time! And so, in a moment of quiet, I start typing. I'm not sure if the scene I write will be int he finished version of the book, but I have to start somewhere. Even if I don't use it, I'm farther along than I was — and when you're pulling together something as huge as a novel, sometimes that's all you can ask for.


SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I know I wrote just earlier this week about starting Maggie Hope #7, set in Paris during the Occupation on Jungle Reds, but wouldn't you know it — just got back copyedits for THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE. So it's a bit of "two steps forward, three steps back." 

Add caption
THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE is Maggie Hope novel #6, and set in London. It's my first serial killer novel, based on the real-life murderer who terrorized London during the Blitz Blackouts. It's also my most "traditional" mystery — since the murder victims are female SOE secret agents tapped to be dropped behind enemy lines in Europe, Maggie is chosen as the special liaison to MI-5 and Scotland Yard, who are working jointly on the case.

This particular novel was also influenced by the Wellcome 

Collection in London's exhibit, "Forensics: Anatomy of a Crime" and the accompanying book by novelist Val McDermid. The trick to writing about a murder set in the winter of 1942 is to make sure the forensics used are historically accurate and the exhibition and book were amazingly helpful.

Aside from the murders and mystery, one of the things I love most about this novel is that we're back in London and get to see a lot of old friends: David Greene, of course, who's still head private secretary to Mr. Churchill. We also catch up with ballet dancer Sarah Sanderson, who's hung up her pointe shoes for a Sten gun, joining the SOE and preparing to be dropped in Paris. Joining her is Hugh Thompson, Maggie's former boyfriend, who's going to be her partner undercover. In MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE, Maggie made a deal with Mr. Churchill to help her half-sister, Elise Hess, escape from Ravensbruck concentration camp, where she's being held as a political prisoner — and we see how that's going....

For copyedits, I like to leave home for a few days. Just really

need absolute silence. "Honey, what's for dinner?" and "Mommy, can I play with Johnny?" break the concentration. So with any luck, a friend will need apartment or housesitting and I'll be able to get away on my own for a bit. 

I am excited — and also overwhelmed. 

Please wish me luck!

MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANT shortlisted at Left Coast Crime

Thrilled to announce MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE has been shortlisted for Left Coast Crime's Bruce Alexander Historical Fiction Award. I'm honored and overwhelmed to be in such great company!

The Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award (first awarded in 2004) is given to mystery novels covering events before 1960. This year’s nominees are:

  • Rhys BowenQueen of Hearts (Berkley Prime Crime)
  • Susanna CalkinsFrom the Charred Remains (Minotaur Books)
  • Catriona McPhersonA Deadly Measure of Brimstone (Minotaur Books)
  • Kelli StanleyCity of Ghosts (Minotaur Books)
  • Jeri WestersonCup of Blood (Old London Press)

Hope to see you in Phoenix!

Miss Agatha Christie and MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE, together at Malice Domestic!


Delighted to announce MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE has been nominated for a 2015 Agatha Award, given out annually at the Malice Domestic mystery convention. 

Malice, which takes place in Bethesda the first weekend in May, celebrates “the traditional mystery,” and MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE is one of the attendees’ top choices for “Best Historical Mystery.”  I am gobsmacked and honored — check out the shortlist of nominees: 

Best Historical Novel:
Malice at the Palace, Rhys Bowen (Berkley)
The Masque of a Murderer, Susanna Calkins (Minotaur Books)
Dreaming Spies
, Laurie R. King (Bantam)
Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, Susan Elia Macneal (Banntam)
Murder on Amsterdam Avenue, Victoria Thompson (Berkley)
Voting takes place during the conference.  The entire list of nominations, offering a lot of weeks of great traditional crime stories, is here.

So very grateful and thankful.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE debuts at #7 on the New York Times Bestseller list!

MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE is #7 on the New York Times Bestseller list for the week of November 15, 2015! 

Check it out here!

Thank you for the lovely flowers, Team Maggie at Penguin Random House!

Doesn't MRS. ROOSEVELT look lovely next to Neil Patrick Harris? 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE and the great Churchill vs. FDR Martini Battle

(Reprinted from Jungle Red Writers, 11/27/15)
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL:   To celebrate the publication of MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE, Maggie Hope #5 — which takes place in December of 1941, during Prime Minister Winston Churchill's historic post-Pearl Harbor visit to the Roosevelts' White House— we had our own FDR-inspired "Children's Hour." 

And we pitted (pun intended) the two great leaders' very different versions of the classic Martini cocktail against each other. 

So, let's see who wins the Great Martini Smackdown of 2015, shall we? 

I mixed both Churchill's more pristine ("bow in the direction of France" instead of adding vermouth) and FDR's vermouth and olive-brine heavy Martinis. 

Husband Noel, and our guests, Rob, Victor, and Leila, were encouraged to be candid in their reactions to each cocktail.

Here's my recipe for Winston Churchill's Martini:

Winston Churchill's enjoyment of spirits was legendary, but by all accounts, he preferred his drinks unmixed. According to various accounts he was appalled at the copious amount of vermouth in President Roosevelt’s martinis, but drank them agreeably, in the name of diplomacy.

* gin
 (according to some he preferred Plymouth, according to others, Boodles or Beefeater)

* crushed ice

Shake gin in a container half filled with chipped ice. 

Bow respectfully toward France (where dry vermouth is produced)

Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. 

Garnish with lemon peel, if desired.

And here are the guests' opinions of the Churchill Martini: 

NOEL: This is a really good cocktail — it would be great in the summer. You can really taste the gin but also taste the lemon. Very refreshing.

ROB: I love the simple simplicity of it.
SUSAN: Simple simplicity?

ROB: Simple simplicity.

SUSAN: It's elegant. Tastes like the martini at Dukes Hotel, in London. 

VICTOR: The Churchill Martini is very European — "We don't care about driving later — we want alcohol now!" It has a good aftertaste, too — juniper and citrus.

ROB: It's nice to look at the lemon rind floating around in it.

SUSAN: Rob, how many have you had?

ROB: Hey, this is my first drink!
LEILA: It's like a tickle in the throat, but a nice one — smooth and not harsh.

SUSAN: It almost tastes like a Gimlet.

NOEL: Is that the one with the little pickled onions?
SUSAN: No, that's a Gibson. A Gimlet is gin with lime and sugar syrup. It was Betty Draper's cocktail of choice on Mad Men. But that’s another blog post....Or at least another party.

And now on to President Roosevelt’s Martini:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt did always mix drinks at Children’s Hour and reportedly enjoyed making martinis. As far as I can tell there’s no exact recipe, but we know from his personal secretary Grace Tully’s memoirs that they were heavy on the vermouth (which was considered old-fashioned) and he was also known to add a few drops of Pernod, orange blossom water, or olive brine for flavor.

Here’s my best approximation of his martini. Enjoy!

* 2 parts gin
 (according to some he preferred Plymouth; according to others, Beefeater)

* 1 part dry vermouth

* splash olive brine
* 2 olives for garnish

* crushed ice
Shake gin, vermouth, and olive brine in a container half filled with chipped ice. 

Strain into chilled cocktail glasses. 

Add garnish.

Reflections on FDR's Martini: 

ROB: I do like a Dirty Martini! Did President Roosevelt invent the Dirty Martini?

SUSAN: I don't know if he invented the Dirty Martini, but he's reputed to have made and served them — much to Churchill's horror. FDR really liked to garnish, apparently. 

ROB: Well, I love it. It has a richer and plumper taste than the Churchill one.
NOEL: Plumper?

ROB: Plumper, I say!
SUSAN: I like the vermouth and gin together. It's a cocktail for heaven's sake, not just cold gin!

VICTOR: Yes, I can see how this was more popular with the American palate — less alcohol, more ingredients. It's heavier.

NOEL: This is more of a winter cocktail. 

LEILA: This is not a Dirty Martini — this is more like dirty laundry. Yuck.

SUSAN: I like it! More olives, please!

And the winning Martini is.....

SUSAN: So, which do you like best?

NOEL: I think Churchill's for summer and Roosevelt's for winter.
SUSAN: That's a very politic answer, dear.
VICTOR: I vote for the Churchill. And I'm taking a taxi home.

SUSAN: I must admit I like any excuse to eat olives. I'm going with Roosevelt's.

LEILA: Oh, olives in gin are yucky. I pick Churchill's.

ROB: Must we choose? Can't we just enjoy both? I pick both!

SUSAN: And so the Churchill Martini wins — by one vote! Cheers, everyone!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE: Inspired by the real-life Pauli Murray

From "What We're Writing" week on Jungle Red Writers: 

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: The Reverend Dr. Anna Pauline "Pauli" Murray (November 20, 1910 – July 1, 1985) was an American civil rights activist, a women's rights activist, a lawyer, and also an author. In addition, Dr. Murray was the first Black woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest.

The young Pauli Murray, who graduated from Hunter College, worked with the NAACP, and was the first woman to graduate from Howard University's law school. She was a critic of "Jane Crow" — laws and prejudices against Black women. And Pauli Murray is the inspiration for the character Andi Martin in MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANT. 

The real Pauli Murray did have a friendship with Mrs. Roosevelt, and in 1941 tried to persuade the First Lady to intercede when a black man, Odell Waller, was sentenced to death for self-defense.

WUNC, the public radio station in Chapel Hill, North Caroline—Pauli Murray's home and base of Duke University's Pauli Murray Project—to the  has just done a wonderful piece on Pauli Murray, called "Imp, Crusader, and Dude: The Many Identities of Pauli Murray," written by Anita Rao and Frank Stasio: 

"Scholar and activist Pauli Murray grew up in Durham and was fundamentally shaped by its history and culture, and she left a lasting legacy on the city in return. 

Duke University’s Pauli Murray Project has been working to document this legacy and recently reached an important milestone: the project begins the restoration of Pauli Murray’s historic house in southwest Durham this summer.

Today they are also unveiling a new exhibit on view at The Scrap Exchange that features an intersectional look at Pauli’s many identities, from priest to crusader." 

Please give a listen and learn more about the amazing American Pauli Murray — a Black, queer, feminist hero, nearly erased from U.S. history.

Sunday, June 28, 2015



SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Happy Sunday, lovely readers! I'm delighted to tell you that MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANT is now out in ARCs (aka Advance Reader Copies)! And yes, I do have one to give away to one reader who leaves a comment on the Jungle Reds siteAnd wow, the book's publication date is October 27, 2015 — that's just four months away! As our Hank would say, "Whoa."

The other books in the Maggie Hope series are doing well, too. MR. CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY is now in its 16th printing, the other titles are in multiple printings, and Barnes & Noble has come up with a nifty bookshelf display. This one is from our local B&N, but I hear there are others?

So, in between getting Kiddo through the last of 4th grade (sniff), getting ready for summer (Rhode Island!), and copy edits for MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANT (hair-pulling and nail-biting), I've also been researching and writing book #6 in the Maggie Hope series, THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE.

This is now two books ahead for readers — and I want to be careful not to spoil anything for anyone. But I can say that THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE will follow Maggie from Washington, D.C. back to London. And in it, we'll meet a new baddie — the Blackout Ripper — a serial killer (or, rather, a "sequential murderer," since the term "serial killer" wasn't in use back then) who preys on the smart, ambitious, professional women.

I knew Maggie would be back in London for this book — and so I began to think her struggles against the patriarchy as a smart and capable woman weren't getting enough page space, the way they did in the earlier books. And so I deliberately created a killer who was targeting strong professional women — the women who were to be sent abroad to fight in the SOE (the Special Operations Executive — the British black ops organization Maggie has been working for). Since the killer is targeting women of SOE, Maggie's brought in by old friend Peter Frain of MI-5, to work alongside her old frenemy, Mark Stafford — and also a new character, a detective from Scotland Yard. 

[ When I began the project, I became obsessed with the literature of Victorian London. Many of the books I'd already read (women in Victorian lit was my specialty as an English major in college). But I wanted to go back to the really gothic books. So I chose DRACULA and DR. JEKYL AND MR. HYDE. DRACULA, I'd read in junior high or thereabouts, but it was still plenty scary. As well as unintentionally hilarious: "Get Mina recipe for chicken paprika."]

And then there's Jack the Ripper, himself. I started with THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF JACK THE RIPPER, then on to 1880: LONDON MURDERS IN THE AGE OF JACK THE RIPPER, and lots more. Like many, I knew the story without really knowing a lot of facts. The details are grisly.

But — why the fascination with Jack the Ripper, you may ask? 

Good question. 

Jack keeps coming up in the public consciousness as well as literature and pop culture for many reasons. Any plot about about the Jack the Ripper (or a new Ripper) contains coded discussions of the dangers of unrestrained male sexuality, misogynist fears of female sexuality, and censure of female autonomy. 

And so I turned to the scholarly book, A CITY OF DREADFUL DELIGHT, a feminist interpretation of the Ripper murders and their effects. The book also explores how Jack the Ripper (and his many fictional variations) has acted as a catalyst for women’s anger against male violence against women in the public sphere. As author Judith R. Walkowitz argues: "The Whitechapel murders have continued to provide a common vocabulary of male violence against women, a vocabulary now more than one hundred years old. Its persistence owes much to the mass media’s exploitation of Ripper iconography. Depictions of female mutilation in mainstream cinema, celebrations of the Ripper as a 'hero' of crime intensify fears of male violence and convince women that they are helpless victims."

And so, in other words, if I'm going to take on the Ripper myth as a feminist writer with a strong heroine, I'd better tell it in a radically different way. And that's my goal. In the usual Ripper stories and films, the Ripper's challenger is a man — a detective or a journalist usually. The female victims are peripheral to the hunt/catch story. 

In this newest Maggie Hope book, I want to turn that traditional Ripper narrative on its head.

Reading about Jack the Ripper led me to books about our own first serial killer here in the U.S., H. H. Holmes, including Erik Larson's excellent THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY. Jane Addams, the urban reformer who founded Chicago’s Hull House, wrote about the time period — which has its parallel in London of World War II — “Never before in civilization have such numbers of young girls been suddenly released from the protection of the home and permitted to walk unattended upon the city streets and to work under alien roofs.”

I'm also doing research on women in police force during World War II. Yes! It's true! 

And not just researching, but writing, too — it's just a wee bit too early for me to feel comfortable showing any pages. But please rest assured there are about 100 rough pages written, 100 more sketched out pages, and a whole slew of notes and ideas. Maggie's met a lot of horrific people in wartime, but this — a serial killer — is a first. And it's scary. (I'm scaring myself sometimes, which must be good, right?)

Dear lovely readers, please leave a comment here to be entered to win an ARC of MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE!