It’s Valentine’s Day, and what could be a better way to celebrate here on Chicks than with a visit by New York Times bestselling author Susan Elia MacNeal? We love Susan’s books, and can’t wait to hear more about her latest, THE KING’S JUSTICE, which pubs on February 25th. She’s also going to tell us about her mudlarking adventures in London. Take it away, Susan!
Hello! I write the Maggie Hope mysteries, which take place during the Second World War, mostly in England, but occasionally Berlin, Paris, Washington, and Edinburgh. I describe the books as “Nancy Drew meets James Bond.” The series features a young American mathematics prodigy named Maggie Hope. We first meet Maggie when she moves from Boston to London, to sell her grandmother’s house. She ends up working for Prime Minister Winston Churchill and then her life is completely upended—ultimately for the better. She becomes an elite secret agent and spy, fighting the Axis. While Maggie’s outrageously book-smart, she’s not so lucky in love—and one of her big life lessons is to learn to interact with people as well and easily as numbers in math equations. And she’s getting there. In the meantime, she has a circle of really good friends and a pretty amazing cat.
In THE KING’S JUSTICE, Maggie is taking a much-needed break from spying and is defusing bombs in London. There’s a lot going on underneath the surface, both literally—the Nazi unexploded bombs buried in the earth that could blow at any second—and metaphorically—the trauma buried in Maggie’s soul.
I was taken with the idea of mudlarking as an extension of the metaphor. In London, people mudlark on the banks of the Thames River during low tide, scavenging in the silt and sand to find treasure. During World War II, people mudlarked to find items U.S. soldiers on leave might buy—from Victorian, Georgian, Tudor, Medieval, and even Roman times. Mostly people find trash—but sometimes they get lucky and discover valuables. [I think that when people come to terms with their traumas, they need to go through a lot of “trash” in order to find their (metaphorical) “treasure.”]
The cool thing about mudlarking in London is that not only are people still doing it today, but I did it on my last trip! (Technically, you need a permit to mudlark, but I, like many of the people I met, were taking our chances.) Yes, I actually got wet and sandy and dirty looking for treasure (I was hoping for a Roman coin or maybe an Elizabethan ring—no luck). But the treasure, of course, is the experience.
I took a mossy, lichen-covered, slippery staircase down to the banks of the Thames. You can see the barges and tourist boats passing, the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the distance. Seagulls shrieked overhead as I started to dig in the sand with a small trowel. I dug up broken red bricks, shells, and a lot of plastic trash. Also some bones—from the size they looked to be from a bird.
A woman on the bank nearby found a clay pipe, and we all gathered around to touch it. The pipe was probably from the 17th century, she told us, a tiny bit of London history plucked from the mud. The last hand that held the pipe was most likely someone born in the 1600s and long gone. Still, we have a tenuous connection—to the person, to the past, to a London lost in the Thames. And I knew I’d found something even more precious—the central metaphor for my book.
In THE KING’S JUSTICE, the ninth book in the acclaimed Maggie Hope mystery series by Susan Elia MacNeal (Bantam Hardcover; On Sale 2/25/2020), our heroine is on edge. Maggie has returned to London after being imprisoned on a remote island for knowing confidential SOE information, but she is traumatized by her experience. As Maggie takes a break from spying, she starts to behave more and more recklessly. She drinks too much, speeds through the streets on her motorcycle, and joins a squad tasked with defusing unexploded bombs left in London from the Blitz.
When conscientious objectors to the war start disappearing, Maggie is determined to stay out of it. But as human bones start washing up on the shores of the Thames inside of suitcases, it becomes clear that a serial killer is afoot, and Maggie must put aside her hesitations and get to work. Little does Maggie know that this investigation will force her to conquer her demons and face her past in order to solve the case.
Praise for THE KING’S JUSTICE:
“With the ninth stellar entry in her Maggie Hope series, MacNeal once again seamlessly fuses superbly rendered characters, an expertly evoked setting rich with fascinating period details, and a riveting plot to offer up a thoughtful meditation on the subject of good and evil in society. Irresistibly readable and brilliantly crafted, this is a story both historical mystery and fiction fans will adore.”—Library Journal (**STARRED REVIEW**)
“Vivid descriptions of devastated London and distinctive, emotionally flawed characters enhance a plot that builds to a wicked twist. This enjoyable effort will inspire those new to MacNeal to seek out earlier entries.”—Publishers Weekly
“Action-packed, intertwined mysteries featuring an introspective heroine and packed with little-known historical details.” —Kirkus
About the Author:
(Photo © Noel MacNeal)
Susan Elia MacNeal is the New York Times bestselling author of the Maggie Hope mysteries. MacNeal won the Barry Award and has been nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, Agatha, Left Coast Crime, Dilys, and ITW Thriller awards. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and son.
Readers, have you ever done any treasure hunting (in the mud, or elsewhere)? What would you love to find?