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Top Shelf: The New Maggie Hope Book

The newest release in the Maggie Hope Series, The Hollywood Spy, by Susan Elia MacNeal, surrounds a grisly murder on U.S. soil. It's unusual for a Maggie Hope book to take place outside of Europe, this being only the second one (I think), and the placement in "old" Hollywood gives it a unique vibe.

There is a murdered woman, Gloria Hutton, who has been dating Maggie's old beau, John Sterling. When Maggie arrives in LA to help him investigate, she confronts serious issues surrounding race and war (common themes throughout the series). As with all of the Hope books, setting is also integral. This time in 1940s Hollywood, with its early paparazzi, unusual architecture and drug fueled parties, it does not disappoint. There is also a strange haze clouding the city, a commentary on early pollution problems experienced as industry impacts the beautiful west coast.

In addition to the common enemy abroad, there's also the rising of the Klan and white supremacy. There are race riots taking place all over the United States, and Los Angeles seems to be at the center. The main characters in this novel--John, Maggie and Sarah--feel sadness and protectiveness, as they continue to observe the challenges and danger experienced by their friends who are black, gay or Jewish. Hate seems to be all around and always threatening those they love.

"But she already knew the answer--and it made her depressed and frustrated and furious all at once. "

Despite the gravity of the situation, there are light-hearted moments as well. They run into all kinds of celebrities from the era--Lena Horne, Ray Bolger, Richard Rogers, Hattie McDaniel and Walt Disney. Maggie enjoys a literally light moment when she flies a plane high above the city. And, of course, there's a little romance as well.

As is so often the case, there are true stories and characters behind the fiction, which draws the reader ever closer to aligning with the concerns of those in the novel. I found myself increasingly more alarmed with the hateful activities unfolding, just as Maggie and John experienced their own fears.

At the climax of the plot, we enjoy action and adventure, as Maggie throws caution to the wind and takes unimaginable risks again and again. But, that is why we love her! And at the end, we are left with clear expectations of another story back in Europe with dear old Mr. K (her cat).

"People are contradictory--they're usually not either-or as much as both at the same time...Bad people who do good things, good people who do bad things."

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