imageI have been a fan of Susan Elia MacNeal since her first novel featuring our heroine, Maggie Hope, Mr. Churchill’s SecretaryThe Paris Spy was a bit heavier than her previous books and perhaps this wasn’t the time for me to read it.  It has been very gloomy in Chicago the past couple of weeks and this did not lift my mood.  That being said, it is well written, the research extensive and I greatly appreciated the addition of the books MacNeal consulted and has listed for us, for my TBR list.

We find Maggie in Paris waiting to start her assignment, as an undercover agent, from the British.  We are in the midst of the Nazi occupation of France.  Maggie has gone to France to find an operative, who hasn’t been heard from, and her half-sister, having bought her way out of a concentration camp, has gone missing.  She, of course, is on assignment to gather as much intelligence as possible and report back to London.  Her cover is that of an Irish socialite (Ireland was neutral during WWII) in Paris for her trousseau for her upcoming wedding and when “her” Louis Vuitton trunk arrives, at her safe house, she changes into her Chanel Couture (of course she does!) and goes to the Ritz, which, as we all know, is a Nazi stronghold. As she is registering at the Hotel she encounters none other than Gabrielle, Coco, Chanel who takes her under her wing.  (It seems that the last few books I have read and reviewed have referenced either Christian Dior or Chanel.)  Chanel takes Maggie, aka Paige Kelly, under her wing and actually to the ballet that evening where two of Maggie’s friends, Hugh, a former lover and his new amour, Sabine, are performing.  After the performance, they go to Maxim’s and the plot thickens. During the evening Chanel discusses her feeling for the Nazis among other things, quite shocking (read Sleeping with The Enemy: Coco Chanel, Nazi Agent by Hal Vaughan and come to your own conclusions!)  I am making it sound very glamorous, it is anything but.  The story is brutal not only in the devastating occupation of France and the humiliation of the Parisians but in the actual brutality of the captors with their “guests” thankfully we are spared the worst of it, but still hard to read.

Will Maggie/Paige find who she is looking for, will we learn who the double agent is (he sides with the Germans because he “prefers Fascism to Communism” what a choice, who would want either!!!!)  The heroes of the story are the women who see things are not what they seem in transcriptions and report them only to be ignored…seriously…and they are very strong women to be sure, some things don’t change do they!.

Two passages I wanted to comment on…the first is Chanel’s remarks on page 204 Maggie has attended the Nina Ricci Couture show and encounters Chanel as both are coming back to the Ritz.  Chanel asks Maggie how she enjoyed the presentation to which Maggie responds: “I liked the red especially, but someone with my coloring (she is a redhead) really can’t wear that color.”  Chanel: “Yes, I heard there was a lot of red—and sable.  And the wedding dress?”  Maggie:  “Beautiful.  But it might be a bit much for me.  Perhaps an ivory silk suit might be better for these times.”  Chanel:  “Nonsense! We must embrace excess—especially these days!  We’re dancing on the edge of a volcano, after all…..”   Interesting ñ’est pas!

The second refers to using actors, decorators, and designer, all in the US Army, to build “fake” tanks and other equipment to fool the Nazis into thinking the Allies were where they weren’t…see pages 206-207.  This is what Bill Blass did during the war. He told me about it and said it was a great pleasure to be able to divert the German army by creating “stage sets”.  See his autobiography Bare Blass for further details on this operation.

This book gave me more information on the British spy system used during WWII than I knew or suspected and I must say I definitely didn’t expect the ending…obviously there is more to Maggie’s story to be told!  Let’s see what MacNeal has in store in book 8, I for one will be eagerly awaiting it.




imageI am a sucker for a glamorous couple involved in a mystery, aren’t you….as another of my favorite authors, Deborah Crombie, says on this books cover “Amory Ames and her rakish husband, Milo, might just be the new Nick and Nora Charles.”  One lives in hope.

I have enjoyed the first of this series of books and this one not only didn’t disappoint but gave me a bit of a respite from all the craziness of the anxious world we now live in!  Take me to Lake Como, where our story begins, or more importantly to Paris (at any time, please!!!) I always listen to music when I am reading (always have even when I was doing school homework, I must have sound at all times!!!)  I put on some of my Jazz along with some of my dear Stanley Paul’s playlist, which always soothes me, and read the entire book in short time.  Today I am posting listening to our treasured WFMT-FM what would we do without this station.  They are currently doing their Fall Membership Drive, do subscribe, donate, get involved with them or we shall lose our only Classical Music station, that would be horrendous….(not a paid announcement just from my heart).  Oops, I got off track, what a surprise!

While staying in Lake Como on an extended trip to the Continent, Milo receives word from his former nanny, Madame Nanette, (we get the backstory of his childhood throughout the book, much of it news to Amory) requesting his help in Paris.  Her employer, the powerful owner of a major company, dies suddenly and so the mystery begins.  Madame Nanette is certain that he has been murdered and that the murderer is in the household or perhaps one of his rivals.  Amory always loves an intrigue and this one appeals to both her and her charmer of a husband who often leaves her alone to attend gambling halls as well as nightclubs.  Amory often goes along to the clubs but gives Milo space, which in this story takes on a life of its own!  We are, of course, drawn into the intrigue until the conclusion (I must admit I thought it was someone else, as did Amory…Milo set both of us straight…).  I don’t want to do spoilers….it is definitely a fun read (can a murder mystery be “fun”, on dear!) with some twists and turns.

Why did I enjoy The Essence of Murder, I’ve mentioned a few reasons already but what I haven’t told you is that the Belanger empire at stake is the most important French perfumery and the launch of its new fragrance is imminent.  Who will inherit the company?  The daughter is the likely person, she is the logical choice since she is the only one of the three children (two boys and Cecile) who creates scents and is interested in perfume.  She has worked at her father’s side since she was a little girl.  The oldest son, Anton, a bitter young man, is the business end of the company and the younger brother, Michel, a scoundrel (I’ve always wanted use that description and in this case apt!). Helios Belanger was now married to a much younger English woman, with whom he has a young daughter, how are they involved?  Getting back to why I enjoyed the book….the story of perfume, descriptions of the fashions of the mid to late twenties, the interiors of the grand houses and grounds, parties of the time, the manners…loved it all.  In addition, I seem to be reading a lot about strong women at times that being strong and independant was a challenge, I guess one can say it is always a challenge but when we think where we are now compared to the beginning of the last century we have come a lonnnnng way but still have a long way to go, baby!

I look forward to more from Ashley Weaver as she lets our heroine and rakish husband pursue other mysteries in an entertaining, elegant, stylish manner…bring it on!  Pick up the book at your Independent Bookseller pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine or cup of afternoon tea and enjoy this debonaire couple and their adventures.  Do let me know your thoughts.