by Sally Koslow
Even if The Prisoner in the Castle, set in a storied and remote island off the western coast of Scotland, were executed in a pedestrian style, the plot would carry this book. Luckily for readers, however, without over-writing, the author brings literary panache to this lively narrative. No wonder President Bill Clinton, now a mystery writer himself, recently revealed that Susan Elia McNeal is one of his favorite authors.
The newest in the “Maggie Hope Mystery Series,” Miss Hope, an American mathematician and all-around brainiac and redheaded beauty, is a Special Operations Executive—in simple language, a spy–on behalf of Great Britain during World War II. Along with thirteen other undercover operatives, she’s has been exiled to an ersatz “castle” on the island on account of inauspicious behavior. Every “prisoner”—because that’s what they are—has his or her own complicated story. One, for example, was sent to the island because she unintentionally killed a fellow spy. If being sentenced to a stay on a gloomy, rain-lashed Scottish island—where haggis may be on the menu–weren’t bad enough, the spies start dropping dead, one by one. Therein lies the action.
Although this novel is part of a series, it can be enjoyed without having read the other books. A few characters reappear, but Ms. MacNeal offers enough sufficient back-story to make the reading experience fluid and fast-moving fun.
Sally, former editor-in-chief of McCall’s, is the author of the novel The Widow Waltz (2014), the nonfiction book Slouching Toward Adulthood: How to Let Go So Your Kids Can Grow Up (2013), and many other books.