In 1941, Christmas offers hope for a beleaguered Great Britain but no peace for an English spy.
Now that Japan has attacked the U.S., President Franklin Delano Roosevelt can declare war on the Axis, and Winston Churchill has made a secret trip to Washington to discuss strategy. After starting as Churchill’s secretary, brilliant math major Maggie Hope has graduated to become an accomplished spy. Raised in Boston by her American aunt after the supposed deaths of her parents, she now knows that her father is a codebreaker for Great Britain and her mother’s a Nazi spy imprisoned in England. Arriving at the White House, she’s sucked into helping Eleanor Roosevelt when they go check up on Mrs. Roosevelt’s missing secretary, Blanche Balfour, a Southern belle whose boyfriend is urging her to help him create a scandal. Maggie and Eleanor find Blanche dead in her bathtub, her wrists slit. The setup screams suicide, but Maggie is suspicious enough to remove a writing pad from Blanche’s room. Judicious use of a pencil shows that a letter written on the pad accused Eleanor of trying to kiss Blanche. Maggie also becomes involved in the cause of Wendell Cotton, a black man on death row in Virginia, whom an all-white jury has convicted of murder and sentenced to die. Mrs. Roosevelt is eager to save him, but her husband refuses to interfere because he needs Southern support for the war effort. While Churchill and Roosevelt huddle, Maggie’s former lover, Flight Lt. John Sterling, another of Churchill’s aides, is sent to California to drum up publicity and work with Walt Disney on a cartoon Sterling created. Maggie remains in D.C., assisted by a reporter who was once her old college friend, to wrestle with Blanche’s murder and Cotton’s fate.
MacNeal (The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, 2014, etc.) paints an engrossing portrait of a country on the verge of war, with many laws suspended and prejudice rife—a world not that much different from today.