Last year I discovered the Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal and immediately fell in love with the half-American half-British Maggie and her plucky, feminist attitude plopped into the middle of World War II Europe. The Hollywood Spy is a departure from the European front as Maggie investigates her former fiance’s current love’s murder. I received an advance reader’s copy from NetGalley and Bantam Books in exchange for an honest review.
From the publisher: “Los Angeles, 1943. As the Allies beat back the Nazis in the Mediterranean and the United States military slowly closes in on Tokyo, Walt Disney cranks out wartime propaganda and the Cocoanut Grove is alive with jazz and swing each night. But behind this sunny façade lies a darker reality. Somewhere in the lush foothills of Hollywood, a woman floats, lifeless, in the pool of one of California’s trendiest hotels. When American-born secret agent and British spy Maggie Hope learns that this woman was engaged to her old flame, John Sterling, and that he suspects her death was no accident, intuition tells her he’s right. Leaving London under siege—not to mention flying thousands of miles—is a lot to ask. But John was once the love of Maggie’s life . . . and she won’t say no.
Maggie is shocked to find Los Angeles as divided as Europe itself—the Zoot Suit Riots loom large and the Ku Klux Klan casts a long shadow. As she marvels at the hatred in her home country, she can’t help but wonder what it will be like to see her lost love once again. But there is little time to dwell on memories once she starts digging into the case. As she traces a web of deception from the infamous Garden of Allah to the iconic Carthay Theater, she discovers things aren’t always the way things appear in the movies—and the political situation in America is more complicated, and dangerous, than the newsreels would have them all believe. “
I have to admit that the beginning of the book was hard to read in that there are some seriously evil people in the book and it was hard to read their point-of-view. Sadly, there are still people out there like that, which is what makes this book so good: it parallels what is going on in our country right now. MacNeal acknowledged as much, too. I’m all for fiction works shining a light on topics that people don’t necessarily want to talk about as a way of opening discussion.
The Hollywood Spy (Amazon) is similar to other Maggie Hope mysteries, yet it’s also decidedly different. The focus of this book discusses several aspects of American history that some people would rather we not talk about: the internment of Japanese Americans, the hotbed of Nazi sympathizers in states, the always insidious activities of the still active Ku Klux Klan, the anti-Semitism of some Americans and how they thought of FDR as a “Jew lover”, and the segregation of black and white Americans. I knew about some of these aspects since I read a lot of American history, but the activities of the Klan on the west coast during WWII Was unknown to me. I was happy that in the Acknowledgements, MacNeal sources several books that she used for reference and which I am interested in reading more about.
This book is also dissimilar from other Maggie Hope books in that you don’t necessarily have had to have read the other books in the series first in order to enjoy this volume. Previously, the stories always left some plot holes and ended on a cliffhanger and that’s not necessarily the case with this book. It was a refreshing change of pace, although I do think that some of the bad guys from this book will be making an appearance in future volumes.
As with other Maggie Hope books, she faces real peril and is put in some pretty dangerous situations. But luckily Maggie is smart and resourceful and can figure her way out of a jam and doesn’t need a man to do it. I look forward to reading more of Maggie’s adventures in the years to come.
The publication date for The Hollywood Spy is July 6, 2021.
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