Guest Chick: Susan Elia MacNeal

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.


“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.

Twitter: @SusanMacNealInstagram: susaneliamacneal

Readers, have you ever done any treasure hunting (in the mud, or elsewhere)? What would you love to find?





17 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Susan Elia MacNeal

  1. Susan, We’re so excited to have you guest with us today, and to hear about The King’s Justice! Loved learning about your larking adventures in the mud. I’m thinking it’s like digging for quahogs here in New England, but a lot more satisfying. (I don’t even eat quahogs.) Just had a reader friend ask for a recommendation for a good mystery set in World War 2 England, with a strong heroine. I was happy to have just the ticket!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’d not heard of mudlarking, but sounds like something right up my ally with all my mud runs. Cool that someone near you found a treasure while you were there.

    Congrats on the new book!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Susan: What a wonderful post. We are so thrilled that you’re visiting Chicks today! I have never heard of mudlarking but I love the sound of the word itself (as well as the activity)…it’s lovely.

    And “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.” = ❤️

    Congratulations on your fabulous series–I can’t wait to read The King’s Justice!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Welcome, Susan, and congratulations on your series!! I’ve never heard of mudlarking, but am now absolutely fascinated. The King’s Justice sounds wonderful and I’m very much looking forward to reading. I love this era, and you’ve made it even more enticing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Okay, now I want to immediately fly to London and mudlark. Fascinating! The book sounds great. I haven’t done any treasure hunting, unless you count thrift shopping. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people on Antiques Roadshows who hands the expert something I bought at a garage sale for fifty cents and he says, “Do you know how much this is worth? A million dollars!”

    No luck so far.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. There was an article in the New York Times just two days ago about about mudlarking along the River Thames, and I was enchanted by the idea. (It’s worth reading: And what a wonderful metaphor for your book–and for one’s life.

    Thanks so much for visiting the Chicks today, and I’m definitely going to have to read your new book! It sounds fab!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, that was a great article, Leslie! Wonder how many people have pieces of the Mayflower from the Thames and don’t know it.


  7. Sounds like a great series! I’ll have to check it out. I have mudlarked on the banks of the Thames, but didn’t know it! Well, I knew I had done it, I just didn’t know it was called that. 😆 Thanks for giving me a great new verb to wield!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sounds like a great series! I’ll have to check it out. I have mudlarked on the banks of the Thames, but didn’t know it! Well, I knew I had done it, I just didn’t know it was called that. 😆 Thanks for giving me a great new verb to wield!


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