Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Q&A with Susan Elia MacNeal




Susan Elia MacNeal is the author of the new novel The Last Hope, the final volume of her Maggie Hope series, set in the World War II period. She lives in Brooklyn.


Q: Why did you decide to end your Maggie Hope series with this new novel, The Last Hope?


A: In The Last Hope, Maggie is dealing with nuclear weapons, the plans for the D-Day invasion, and beginnings of the Cold War. The war is basically won at this point (early 1944), so it seemed a good time to wrap things up. And I have so many new stories to tell…


Still, it’s also heartbreaking. I am and will continue to grieve the ending of the Maggie Hope series. I’ll really miss her and her friends and her world.

Q: Why did you bring back fashion designer Coco Chanel, who's appeared in an earlier book, as a key player in this novel?


A: I’d always wanted to write more about Coco Channel, who’s such a fascinating human. The timing of the book and her undercover mission to Spain on behalf of the Nazis (yes, this is true, not fiction!) was at the end of 1943/beginning of 1944, so it seemed perfect to set a novel around.


Q: How did you research the story, and what did you learn that particularly surprised you?

A: So many things were surprising! Truth truly is stranger than fiction… That the Nazis running Coco Chanel’s mission actually thought they could convince Winston Churchill to negotiate a separate peace with them. That a Red Sox shortstop, Mo Berg, was asked to assassinate Nazi nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg. That, with British NVKD undercover spies like Kim Philby in Intelligence, the Cold War had already begun.


I was also lucky enough to get to go to Spain, a neutral country during the war. It’s mind-blowing to think about how people from Allied and Axis nations could (and would!) intermingle in places like Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland. Literally living and working cheek-by-jowl, at the same hotels, restaurants, and bars.


Q: How do you think Maggie has changed over the course of the series, and will you miss writing about her?


A: Oh, Maggie’s definitely grown up during the course of the series! I loved writing this book, The Last Hope, because it provides the cap to so many of the issues she was dealing with in Mr. Churchill’s Secretary.


She’s gone from stopping an assassination attempt to being an assassin herself. She’s learned to work well with people and achieve goals. She’s learned emotional intelligence. She’s taken responsibility for her life. She’s managed her PTSD. And she’s learned to love.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Delighted to say I’ve signed a contract for a new stand-alone novel and mystery series with Minotaur Books!


The stand-alone will take place in London, 1966—so a familiar place, but a whole new time—the Swinging Sixties. And, after that, I’ll be starting a noirish mystery series set in late ‘50s New York City. They’ll both feature amazing locations, quirky characters, strong female leads, and—of course—murder.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I want to thank the readers of the Maggie Hope series for reading and following Maggie and her friends along her journey. I’ll miss Maggie, too…. But I’m truly thrilled to be writing and sharing new stories.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Susan Elia MacNeal.

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