Wednesday Book Club "Mr. Chrurhill's Secretary" by Susan Elia Macneal

Location: 
Library Meeting Room

Maggie Hope, born in Britain but raised in the US by an aunt after the death of her parents, is astonished to learn that she is the heir of a grandmother she never knew. According to the terms of the will, she is required to go to Britain and settle the modest estate personally. So in the summer of 1939 she puts her plans for graduate school on hold and travels to London to sell her grandmother's house, despite her aunt's misgivings.

The rackety old Victorian proves difficult to sell and expensive to maintain, so when a couple of her friends quit their jobs and lose the associated housing with the American Embassy after Britain enters the war, she offers to take them in. As London fills up with workers for the war effort, a few more friends take refuge with Maggie, who has determined to stay and support her country of birth. To make ends meet, she takes a job in the Prime Minister's office as a typist, although she thinks it a waste of her degree in mathematics and her language skills.

Visiting the cemetery to lay flowers on the graves of her parents, killed in a traffic accident when she was very young, she is perplexed to find only her mother's grave. She queries her aunt, who confesses that her father had survived the accident, but went mad as a result, and has been permanently institutionalized. Maggie is determined to locate him.

Through a number of characters the story offers a fair representation of the widely differing opinions of Britons about the war. The entwined threads of the missing father and the home-grown terrorism rachet up the suspense to a satisfying and hair-raising conclusion. But the real charm for me is watching the characters cope with rationing, bombing raids, clothing coupons, and all the other vicissitudes - from inconvenience to mortal danger - of wartime London......from publisher's source