A Review of THE PRISONER IN THE CASTLE by Susan Elia MacNeal


Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

Maggie Hope – American-born spy and code-breaker working for the British during World War II – returns in THE PRISONER IN THE CASTLE. The novel is the eighth in the Maggie Hope Mystery series by Susan Elia MacNeal, and it will be published on August 7th 2018 by Bantam.

I am a huge fan of the Maggie Hope Mystery series, and I’m always excited to see what kind of new, top secret mission Maggie is part of and how it will affect what is going on during World War II. THE PRISONER IN THE CASTLE picks up roughly five months after THE PARIS SPY (Maggie Hope Mystery #7) ended, and Maggie quite literally is a prisoner in a castle. Because Maggie knows too much about what is going on with Britain’s war plans, she is bundled off to a remote island off the coast of Scotland along with about a dozen other British prisoners. Like Maggie, every one of the prisoners is either a British spy or worked for the British war effort, and they were sent to the secluded island when their superiors decided that they knew too much. The Isle of Scarra is inhabited only by the banished spies, an officer/jail keeper, and three caretakers. The inhabitants’ only contact with the outside world is through radio and the once a month visits by a doctor who brings them fresh supplies. In a matter of days, eight people are murdered in various ways. It is clear that one of the prisoners is the killer – though MacNeal leaves open the possibility that there might be another, unknown person lurking about the small island. A nasty winter storm cuts off the rescue attempts from the mainland, and, once Maggie realizes that there is a German spy among the prisoners, she is forced to smash the radio and sever their only form of communication. With no one she can really trust and no way to get help to the island, Maggie is determined to figure out the identity of the murderer/German spy before she becomes another victim.

THE PRISONER IN THE CASTLE is different from the other Maggie Hope Mysteries simply because Maggie is trapped in one location and is only indirectly involved in the war effort. The events of World War II take a backseat in this novel, but MacNeal still provides the reader with plenty of facts about the war and the British secret service. The novel is set to the tone of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ theme, but MacNeal keeps it interesting with numerous murders (eight in all), a mystery surrounding the island’s former inhabitants, and scenes involving Maggie’s friends and colleagues in England and Scotland. MacNeal certainly kept me guessing on who the murderer was – she would set up one of the other prisoners and then turn that character into the next victim. I will admit that I was uncertain of who the murderer was until that character made his/her confession.

In THE PRISONER IN THE CASTLE, the mystery is both intriguing and chilling – eight people are murdered in a matter of days. The entire novel – save for the scenes involving other characters that are set in either England or Scotland – takes places on the small, remote island. The number of suspects is limited, and the list dwindles as the characters are killed off. All of the characters are compelling in their own way – though I must admit that Quinten is my favorite. I hope that Quinten, and his taxidermied fox, make appearances in later Maggie Hope Mysteries. The creepy, remote island also adds to the mystery. MacNeal brings the island to life with her descriptions of the landscape and weather. She also provides the island and its former inhabitants with a compelling history that gives Maggie and the others something to focus on as they work to ferret out the murderer.

THE PRISONER IN THE CASTLE is a great new addition to the Maggie Hope Mystery series, though it can be read as a standalone. I strongly recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of historical mysteries.