Solid twist on clas­sic Agatha Christie mys­tery

Edmonton Sun - - SHOWBIZ - Oline H. Cogdill

One plea­sure of a mys­tery se­ries is con­nect­ing with a char­ac­ter that changes and grows with each novel.

Mag­gie Hope, the hero­ine of Su­san Elia Macneal’s World War II nov­els, is a dif­fer­ent woman in this eighth out­ing, The Pris­oner in the Cas­tle, than she was in the 2012 Edgar-nom­i­nated de­but, Mr. Churchill’s Sec­re­tary.

Start­ing as a typ­ist for Win­ston Churchill, Mag­gie has be­come a full-fledged spy, work­ing for the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Ex­ec­u­tive (SOE), the hush-hush or­ga­ni­za­tion cre­ated by Churchill to “set Europe ablaze.”

But at the end of 1942, the spy busi­ness turns against spe­cial agent Mag­gie when she is sent to a for­mer Vic­to­rian hunt­ing lodge on the tiny, re­mote Isle of Scarra, nick­named the For­bid­den Is­land, lo­cated hun­dreds of miles from the main­land of Scot­land. The place is sup­posed to be a se­cret British train­ing cen­tre but is re­ally a prison for top agents whose su­per­vi­sors worry they could leak vi­tal in­for­ma­tion or have weak­nesses that could be ex­ploited by the en­emy.

They can’t leave — or com­mu­ni­cate with the out­side world — and none of their friends or fam­ily knows where they are. But the 10 agents hardly feel like they are in jail as they roam the grounds freely and are served ex­cel­lent meals by the three ser­vants who live at the lodge.

But then the agents — all of whom have been trained to kill — are be­ing mur­dered, and it is ob­vi­ous that one of them is putting to prac­tice his — or her — back­ground.

The plot’s par­al­lels to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None are ob­vi­ous — there are even sev­eral ref­er­ences to that 1939 novel.

Macneal hon­ours that clas­sic mys­tery, but does not make The Pris­oner in the Cas­tle a copy­cat novel. As in her other nov­els, Macneal puts a fic­tional spin on real WWII events. The Pris­oner in the Cas­tle is based on a sim­i­lar fa­cil­ity for at-risk SOE agents.

Mag­gie’s in­tel­li­gence and loy­alty to the war ef­fort con­tin­ues to evolve in Macneal’s se­ries. Mag­gie’s con­fine­ment at the is­land is com­pli­cated be­cause her tes­ti­mony is vi­tal at a se­rial killer’s up­com­ing trial in Lon­don. With­out her, the killer may go free.

Solid twists keep the plot of The Pris­oner in the Cas­tle churn­ing un­til the sur­prise fi­nale.

The Pris­oner in the Cas­tle Su­san Elia Macneal (Ban­tam)

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