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

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!