Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The King's Justice by Susan Elia MacNeal: Reading Room Review

The King's Justice is the ninth book in the Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal, and I feel like I should pinch myself to ensure that I'm not dreaming that.  Can readers have already had nine of these thrilling books in which to immerse their reading pleasures?   I guess time really does fly when you have great reading.  From the first story in this series, Mr. Churchill's Secretary, author Susan Elia MacNeal has made the WWII London setting come alive from her carefully researched details of what living in London during this time was actually like.  Readers feel Maggie's steps and see through her eyes the streets during the London Blitz, the living with rationing, the taking refuge in the subways during air raids, the aftermath of a bombed London, the make-do efforts of entertainment, and the war effort by so many to survive and endure.  Of course, not all the action of the series has taken place in London, as Maggie becomes a member of the SOE (Special Operations  Executive) espionage unit.  Readers have followed Maggie to Germany, to Paris, and to Scotland in her role as an SOE agent, and, everywhere we go, readers can feel the authenticity of the setting.  As a woman reading this series, it's been an amazing experience to be able to put myself in the shoes of a young woman living the WWII story.  However, these are not "women" stories.  They are WWII stories, and with murder mystery added to the mix, they are gripping reads for all, one of the best historical fiction mystery series there is.

It's 1943, and Maggie is back in London for The King's Justice, but it is a battered, betrayed Maggie who is drinking and smoking a bit too much to try and forget her recent, horrific tribulations on a Scottish island.  To cap off a hard core drive to forget and engage in something other than SOE work, Maggie is now a member of the 107th Tunneling Company of the Royal Engineers and is knee-deep in diffusing the many unexploded German bombs left over from the Blitz of 1940.  Maybe not a death wish for Maggie, but she does seem to be living on the edge, as even her mode of transportation, a motorcycle, seems a walk on the wild side.  Her unit has a large number of COs, conscientious objectors, including the Britalian factor, those Italians who were born in Britain but whose Italian parents are just a breath away from their Italian relatives.  I wasn't aware of this part of the British population during WWII, and they suffered from mistrust and some internment, just as the Japanese did in the United States.  Also back in London and living at Maggie's house is Sarah, who served in the SOE with Maggie during their Paris undercover operation.  Sarah has left the SOE and returned to the ballet, after suffering the loss of the man she loved.  And, Chuck and her son Griffin are living with Maggie while Chuck's husband is serving in the war.  

What has Maggie's immediate attention is the upcoming execution of Nicholas Reitter, the Blackout Beast, whom Maggie and DCI James Durgin captured in a previous book, The Queen's Accomplice.  Targeting SOE female operatives, the Blackout Beast murdered five women in a sick reprisal of Jack the Ripper viciousness.  With hope that Reitter's execution will lay some of her demons to rest, Maggie is counting down the days, the hours, minutes, the seconds to the time when the savage mass murderer, or sequential murderer, is gone from the world. While the days count down, Maggie's boyfriend DCI Durgin brings a couple of cases to her attention, trying to entice her to help solve them.  The one that she might be persuaded to become involved in is the disappearance of a Stradivarius violin belonging to Giacomo Genovese, first chair violinist of the London Philharmonic and a Britalian, and when Durgin introduces Maggie to Giacomo after a concert, she's pretty well hooked.  

The other case involves another sequential murderer, a murderer who is targeting conscientious objectors, as is evidenced by the presence of a white feather, meant for cowardice, included with their remains.  The remains though are of a different sort, just the bones of young men, each victim's bones enclosed in a suitcase thrown into the Thames River and washing ashore.   Maggie has vowed to stay away from murder, but when Nicholas Reitter professes to know who the new sequential killer is and states he will only talk to Maggie, she feels she has no choice but to visit him in his cell and listen to what he has to say.  Of course, Reitter is full of the cat and mouse game, and Maggie finds herself once more involved in a race to save young lives, this time young men instead of young women. 

As Maggie applies her dogged determination and brilliance to the two cases, she is working through her own torments, the effects of her war experiences, or PTSD, as it is called today.  She's also struggling with her relationship with James Durgin, who, although he asked for her help, seems dismissive of her theories.  Durgin admires Maggie's skills, but he's not exactly enlightened where women's equality is concerned.  There is a myriad of issues that are addressed in this book, all intricately woven into the story.  The PTSD, the woman's place in the world, the death penalty, and the internment and mistreatment of Italians in England during WWII.  It's a wonderful mesh of issues, history, murder, and mystery.  The characters are fascinating, those for good and those of evil, and through Maggie's research on the criminal mind, we are given questions to ponder about nature and nurture in the people who become killers.   To say The King's Justice holds the reader's interest is a gross understatement.  As Maggie concludes her business and quells her demons, there's the added bonus of having a rather clear idea of where her next adventure will be.  It's going to be hard to wait for the next installment of this exceptional series.

I was given an advanced reader's copy of The King's Justice, and my review is my honest, objective assessment of it.  

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