The Last Hope: A Maggie Hope Mystery

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Release Date: 
May 21, 2024
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More spy story than mystery, Maggie Hope's last mission has as many twists and turns as a rollercoaster. One strand involves Nazi-sympathizer Coco Chanel and her push to get England to negotiate a peace deal separately from the Soviets. The fashion designer trusts only Hope to present such an idea directly to Churchill. But Hope's real mission, the one she's been assigned by Kim Philby of Mi6, is to assassinate the physicist Heisenberg when he speaks at an event in Madrid.

As Philby warns: "To the best of our knowledge, the Uranium Club's goal is to build an atomic reactor and a fission bomb. They began in earnest in September of 'thirty-nine."

While most of the historical background of the book is accurate, and the author does a brilliant job of weaving real people into a compelling story, the race for the atomic bomb is one of the few places where the MacNeal makes some missteps. First, she has a British physicist, James Chadwick, assure Hope that Einstein is involved in the Allied effort to build the bomb. While Einstein did sign the letter warning of the danger of a nuclear holocaust to the American president, he was the most high-profile physicist who turned down working on the bomb. First of all, he was a staunch pacifist. Second of all, he was denied a security clearance for exactly that reason.

The other error is the portrayal of Heisenberg. He did not think a bomb was even possible, but in these pages, he says the opposite. "I do think a bomb's possible, but it needs too much time and money to succeed for this war. No one's going to be able to fund it. If the Germans can't, certainly the Americans and Brits can't. They're years behind us. . . . We have no resources, no support, no funding, no manpower."

In reality, Albert Speer, the Nazi Minister of Armaments and War Production, went to Heisenberg repeatedly, asking what was needed to build such a weapon. Heisenberg said there was no point pouring money into an impossibility and got exactly the lower funding he requested. The real secret weapon for the Germans were rockets, the work of Werner von Braun.

This bit of historical fudging doesn't prevent the story from being pervaded by a sense of danger looming around every corner. The shadow of communism hangs heavy. As Coco Chanel says, " You think this is war? This, my girl, is only a preview. The real war is yet to come."

Hope fears for the future, but has plenty to occupy her in the present as the body count rises and more and more double agents are revealed. Can Hope trust anyone? The tension builds as she uncovers answers to questions she hadn't even been asking, including surprises about her own family. The personal becomes very political for her, suggesting this may not be the last mission for Hope after all.