Friday, August 15, 2014

Susan Elia MacNeal

Susan Elia MacNeal is the Barry Award–winning and Edgar, Dilys, and Macavity Award–nominated author of the Maggie Hope mysteries, including Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, His Majesty’s Hope, and the newly released The Prime Minister's Secret Agent.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. MacNeal's reply:
Right now, I’m reading a lot of non-fiction, to research the book I’m working on, Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante. This is the fifth book in the Maggie Hope series, and follows the adventures of Maggie Maggie’s adventures as she accompanies Winston Churchill’s on his post-Pearl Harbor meeting with President Roosevelt in Washington, D.C.

Although the two leaders agreed on many issues, one of the sticking points was Churchill’s idea of Empire — and Roosevelt’s desire to see people free to govern themselves. And so, to learn more, I’m reading Churchill's Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made by Richard Toye, Churchill and Empire: A Portrait of an Imperialist by Lawrence James, and Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II by Madhusree Mukerjee.

Yes, pretty heavy stuff there. I love it — but sometimes need a break.

And that’s where the other books on the bedside table come in.

After writing The Prime Minister's Secret Agent, which takes place on the western coast of Scotland, I’ve become obsessed with the western and northern islands of Scotland, particularly Orkney and Shetland. Since an actual trip isn’t in the cards right now, I’m reading novels set there. (Isn’t that what we all do?)

The first novel I’m reading just for fun is Ann Cleeves’s Raven Black: Book One of the Shetland Island Quartet (Shetland Island Thrillers). I adore how Cleeves captures the language, atmosphere, and local customs of Shetland. Fascinating too are the discussions about the local raven population (the Shetland Islands are a bird-watcher’s paradise) and symbolism of the black raven. Even though I’m reading this in New York City in August, I can feel the cold and damp of Shetland in December, and smell the salty sea air. And it’s not just atmosphere — Cleeves weaves a tight story, with murder, intrigue, questions of insiders and outsiders, and great characters. I’m hooked and anticipate not only finishing the book, but continuing to read the series.

The other is Craig Robertson’s The Last Refuge. It’s set on the Faroe Islands — even farther north than Shetland, northwest of Scotland. It’s a gorgeous but desolate landscape, and Robertson not only paints the remote landscape and wildlife, but the towns, the people, and the customs and language as well. I picked up the book because of the setting, but continue to read, fascinated by the characters and their secrets, especially main character John Callum. He’s not necessarily likable character, but he’s fascinating.

And while I think I’ve figured him out — I won’t say for sure until I’ve read the very last line of the very last page.
Visit Susan Elia MacNeal's website.

--Marshal Zeringue