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

Monday, October 17, 2016


Well, THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE is out and on the USA TODAY and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists, yay!

My editor, who also happens to edit Lee Child, Alan Bradley, and Laurie R. King, wrote a lovely piece for Penguin Random House. Thank you, Kate!

From the Editor’s Desk: Kate Miciak, Vice President & Director of Editorial for Ballantine Bantam Dell on Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope books

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best.

It all started with a title on a manuscript submission I couldn’t get out of my brain: Mr. Churchill’s Secretary. OK, I admit to a certain obsession with the British icon–but his secretary? What must it have been like to work during Britain’s darkest hours with that flamboyant, irascible, outrageously complicated figure? Biographies and memoirs abound of Churchill’s generals, his family, his aides. We know all about his pets, his bathing habits, his socks, favorite drink and books. But his secretary?
As I turned the manuscript pages, I was hooked. For this debut novel wasn’t merely about life in the shadow of Winston Churchill during those scary, dangerous days of what became known as the “false war”—it was the captivating story of a brilliant, college-educated, ambitious young woman with a flair for math and codes…who found that the only job opening for a woman in wartime UK government was typing and filing: Talk about a glass ceiling!
And, she wasn’t even British.  She was an American.
An American woman in the Blitz, working at the side of the seminal power makers of the period, forced to elbow her way into a man’s world….And crimson lipstick and cocktails….
What’s not to love?
Over the course of six award-winning novels, Susan and her marvelous creation, Maggie Hope, continue to enthrall me. In these gloriously researched capers, Susan has led Maggie and her spellbound readers down the bomb-torn alleyways of London, into the heart ‎of the UK’s spy network, parachuting into enemy headquarters, conspiring with Eleanor Roosevelt in the very corridors of the White House.  She’s crafted an intimate glimpse of young Princess Lisbeth and the Royal Family at Windsor; cavorted with Fala, FDR’s Scottie; and courageously shown us the suffering of those in the concentration camps.  More important, she’s stripped away the bald historical facts to inveigle us deep into the hearts of women during war:  women making tough choices and sacrifices, surviving, fighting back, courageously holding together their lives and their jobs and their families under unspeakable pressures.
There was a real Mr. Churchill’s secretary, a woman named Elizabeth Nel who worked for the Prime Minister from 1941 to 1945 and even wrote a memoir of it, which begins: “It doesn’t really matter who I am or where I come from.  Without undue modesty, the only thing of real interest about me is that during World War II I worked for four and a half years as one of the Personal Secretaries to Sir Winston Churchill….”  
But Susan MacNeal has proven, time and time again in her marvelous, intriguing novels, that the women behind the scenes did matter.  And that’s the real triumph of the Maggie Hope novels.
Learn more about the Maggie Hope books below!
Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
For fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Laurie R. King, and Anne Perry, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary captures the drama of an era of unprecedented challenge—and the greatness that rose to meet it.

London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by...  Read more >
Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal
Susan Elia MacNeal introduced the remarkable Maggie Hope in her acclaimed debut, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary. Now Maggie returns to protect Britain’s beloved royals against an international plot—one that could change the course of history. 
As World War II sweeps the continent and England steels itself against...  Read more >
His Majesty's Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal

For fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Laurie R. King, and Anne Perry, whip-smart heroine Maggie Hope returns to embark on a clandestine mission behind enemy lines where no one can be trusted, and even the smallest indiscretion can be deadly.

World War II has finally come home to Britain, but it...  Read more >
The Prime Minister's Secret Agent by Susan Elia MacNeal
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • For fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, and Anne Perry comes a gripping mystery featuring intrepid spy and code breaker Maggie Hope. 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...  Read more >
Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante by Susan Elia MacNeal
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • In this riveting mystery from Susan Elia MacNeal, England’s most daring spy, Maggie Hope, travels across the pond to America, where a looming scandal poses a grave threat to the White House and the Allied cause.December 1941. Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill...  Read more >
The Queen's Accomplice by Susan Elia MacNeal
Spy and code-breaker extraordinaire Maggie Hope returns to war-weary London, where she is thrust into the dangerous hunt for a monster, as theNew York Times bestselling mystery series for fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, and Anne Perry continues.
England, 1942. The Nazis’ relentless Blitz may have...  Read more >

Saturday, July 30, 2016

THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE and Balancing Work and Life

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: It’s summer, and I’m desperately trying to balance family time and working on THE PARIS SPY (Maggie Hope #7). This basically consists of taking my computer on our family vacations to Hudson, NY and Providence, RI. 

So far I’ve worked — and missed going on a water park adventure, a hike, to a horse show, and a barbecue. 

And I've also played hookey from work (don’t tell my editor!) — to go to the horse stables to watch kiddo, have a lunch date at an amazing French place with my husband, and go swimming with all the kids and then take a nap in a hammock. 

I think the solution is to be fully present in whatever mode I’m in — family or work— but it’s hard. This summer, especially, I seem to be struggling. Whenever I’m doing one, I’m worrying about what I’m missing on the other side. There’s just always this feeling of not having enough time.

Right now we’re driving from Hudson, NY to Providence and I’m writing this blog post from the backseat of the car, with my computer propped up on my travel bag, while kibitzing on the conversation going on right now: “Why Aren’t Eleven-Year-Olds Allowed to Drive?” (Kiddo is saying that they should; Daddy is providing the counter argument.)

I don’t know that there’s a solution to this work/life dilemma. But I have been lucky enough to have a loyal writing buddy, Zola, on this leg of the vacation. She’s an elderly black lab mix who likes to curl up and sleep near me as type. When her family's around, she loves them. And when they're gone, she naps (her "work"). I love her. “Be like Zola” is perhaps the wisest thing I’ve come up with so far. It's my new mantra.

Hey, we’re getting closer to the October 4 release of THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE! Here’s the description from Penguin Random House:

Spy and code-breaker extraordinaire Maggie Hope returns to war-weary London, where she is thrust into the dangerous hunt for a monster, as the New York Times bestselling mystery series for fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, and Anne Perry continues.

England, 1942. The Nazis’ relentless Blitz may have paused, but 
 London’s nightly blackouts continue. Now, under the cover of darkness, a madman is brutally killing and mutilating young women in eerie and exact re-creations of Jack the Ripper’s crimes. What’s more, he’s targeting women who are reporting for duty to be Winston Churchill’s spies and saboteurs abroad. The officers at MI-5 quickly realize they need the help of special agent Maggie Hope to find the killer dubbed “the Blackout Beast.” A trap is set. But once the murderer has his sights on Maggie, not even Buckingham Palace can protect the resourceful spy from her fate.

And the first review, from Kirkus, lauds THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE: "Maggie ... is a thoughtful spy whose dangerous escapades never disappoint." Thank you! To celebrate, I’m giving away an autographed ARC to one lucky reader, who posts in the comments.

In the meantime, here's the prologue of THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE. Enjoy!

The winds were changing.They were blowing in from the east now, Vera Baines noted, from the East End. Even though the air raids had stopped for the moment in London—as Hitler turned his attentions toward Russia—the docks, railroads, and factories were still burning. Through her open bedroom window, she could smell cold wind scented with smoke and destruction. She watched as it ruffled the bare black branches of the trees of Regent’s Park, rustling dead ivy. 

Since the war had begun, the park had become a desolate expanse of meandering walkways, overgrown shrubbery, and long air-raid trenches—an ideal location for crime. 
But not on her watch. As an ARP warden for her section in Marylebone, Vera Baines knew not only the winds but the intricacies of light and dark. Sunset in London in late March 1942 arrived after six, but the violet shadows began to lengthen at least an hour earlier. This evening’s sunset was extraordinary—bright red, with crepuscular rays piercing wispy clouds. 

Despite barely clearing the five-foot mark and a slight figure, at eighty-three, Vera was a redoubtable woman. She was more wiry than frail, her energy giving the impression of her being much taller than she actually was. She had impeccable posture and moved with a force and confidence her friends and family hadn’t seen since her husband died ten years ago. And her face, with its high cheekbones and clear blue eyes that missed nothing, radiated strength.

Vera hated the war, hated the loss of innocent lives—but she couldn’t deny it had brought a certain clarity to her existence. As an ARP warden, she now felt she had a purpose: She would protect her own. As she surveyed the park’s deepening shadows from the window of her bone-colored Georgian terraced house, Vera felt responsibility, plus a fierce sense of love and pride. This was her London. These were her people. Nothing would happen to them on her sentry. 

It was time to begin her shift. Vera took one last look at the fad- ing light, listening to the forlorn cries of the birds, then picked her way downstairs, leaning on the railing. At her door, she put on her ARP tin hat, dark blue wool overcoat, and gloves, and reached for her walking stick—with a silver British bulldog on the handle. Then she went down the outside stairs and onto the icy flagstone pavement, bracing herself against the wind. She paced the street with her usual vigor, the pale symmetrical Nash architecture reflecting the last light of the dying sunset. The temperature was dropping and the air smelled of imminent storms. 

A passing white-haired man tipped his black bowler hat, and she nodded in return. “Oh, Mr. Saunders—” she called after him, her breath making clouds in the chill air. 

The man stopped and turned. “Yes, Mrs. Baines?” 

“I noticed a chink in your blackout curtain on the second floor last night. Please see to it no light is visible from now on.” 

He took a few steps forward and frowned down at her. “We haven’t had an air raid in months, dearie.” 

Vera was not deterred by his bulk, his height, or his condescending tone. “And the Luftwaffe might be choosing tonight for a return visit, Mr. Saunders. Let’s not give them any light to guide them to us, shall we?”

She strode on, chin high, taking her usual route past the charred remains of Regent’s Park’s brick wall. The last of the sun’s light melted away, but Vera didn’t mind the dark; she liked being out alone at night. Without electric lights to pierce the darkness, the nighttime took on a new beauty in the icy bright moonlight. Her shuttered flashlight illuminated the strips of white paint on the curbs and tree trunks, giving off a ghostly glow. 

In the distance, she could hear the sounds of the city: the faint rumble of motor traffic, the clip-clop of horses’ hooves on cobble- stones, the screeches and flaps of bats off to their night’s hunt. The wind picked up once again, causing the ancient tree branches to sway and creak, the dead leaves and lipstick-stained cigarette butts in the gutters to dance. 

Without artificial light, Regent’s Park at night could have been any era in London—from the time when ancient Britons painted themselves blue, to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, to the period of Victoria and Albert. Even the clocks obliged: When the Nazi bombs exploded, all nearby timepieces ceased to function, paralyzed at whatever time they were at the instant of impact. These comatose clocks were another reason Vera could imagine time telescoping—the suspended present creating an atmosphere where time travel seemed no mere fantasy. Really, anything seemed possible, especially in the shadows of night. It even smelled as it could have hundreds of years ago—the same stink of urine against the crumbling brick walls as there would have been in Pepys’s day. 

In the darkness, Vera tripped and nearly fell, saved only by her trusty walking stick. “What the—?” she muttered, her grip in leather gloves tight on the silver handle. She righted herself, glad Mr. Saunders hadn’t been there to see. 

She looked down at a long blanket-wrapped bundle. Leaning over, flashlight in one hand, she lifted and pulled back the wool covering with the tip of her cane. 

Vera gave a sharp inhale, but didn’t cry out when she saw the butchered body of a young woman. The body looked to have be- longed to a girl in her early twenties—healthy and athletic, hair curled. Her throat had been slashed so savagely her head was nearly severed from her body. Her belly had been slit through her ATS uniform, which was soaked through with blood. 

Vera felt as if she’d been struck dumb. But she swallowed, braced her shoulders, gathering her strength. “Murder!” she managed to croak. “Murder!” she cried, louder this time. “Someone— someone fetch the police!” 

A blond boy in a tweed cap walking past stopped and stared. “What the devil’s going on? Are you all right, ma’am?” 

Vera lifted her chin, squared her shoulders, and deployed the stiff upper lip she’d perfected over a lifetime of practice. “Yes, yes, of course am,” she reassured him. “But I’m afraid she isn’t,” she added, pointing to the woman’s mutilated body with the silver tip of her walking stick. 

The boy squinted in the darkness, eyes following the flashlight’s beam When he realized what he was seeing, he tore off his cap and crossed himself, whispering, “Bloody hell.” He looked from the body back to Vera. “She’s been ripped, ma’am.” He shook his head, his hands worrying at his hat. “Looks like she’s been done in by Jack the Bloody Ripper himself.” 

“What are you going on about, young man?” Despite her occasional daydreams—or night dreams—Vera had no patience for macabre nonsense. But the boy was looking past her to the park’s brick wall, gaping at lettering. 

With a shaking hand, Vera raised her flashlight. The words scrawled across the wall were painted the same ghostly, glowing white paint as the curbs.

They read, JACK IS BACK. 

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.