Hello and thank you for having me, Ladies of Mystery!
I’m thrilled to be here talking about The Hollywood Spy. It’s the latest novel in the Maggie Hope series—but it can also be read as a stand-alone, so don’t worry about needing to catch up.
In The Hollywood Spy, Maggie Hope returns to the United States—and not just anywhere, but Los Angeles, in the summer of 1943.
Why Los Angeles? Typically, the setting for the books has been London and the UK. Well, I read the Pulitzer-Prize-nominated non-fiction book, Hitler in Los Angeles and that was the catalyst I needed. Yes, you read that title correctly—in the 1930s and even after World War II began, southern California was a hotbed of fascist activity for both German and American Nazis. When I finished reading the book (which reads like a thriller, by the way), I knew I wanted to set a book there and then.
Los Angeles turns out to be a perfect place for Maggie Hope’s adventures to continue. She’s asked (by her former beau) to investigate his fiancée’s murder. Well, that’s a bit awkward! But Maggie needs a change of scene from dreary grey London—and what starts as a cursory inquiry turns much darker and twistier as more clues are discovered.
Los Angeles, the city, is a character in her own right in this book. Some of the locations are the Chateau Marmont (where Maggie and her friend Sarah Sanderson stay), the Walt Disney Studios (where John Sterling, Maggie’s ex beau works), the swanky Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel, Schwab’s Pharmacy, Caltech, and the Carthay theater. I loved reading books and articles about L.A. during the war, as well as watching documentaries. Taking a research trip was also both productive and fun.
In The Hollywood Spy, we also meet some famous names from Hollywood at the time: Walt Disney, of course, but also choreographer George Balanchine, composer Igor Stravinsky, singer Cab Calloway, aviation and movie tycoon Howard Hughes, and actress Lena Horne.
But it’s not all glitz and glamour in Los Angeles, as Maggie and her friends soon find. There’s a dark underbelly as well—all historically documented. In June of 1943, L.A. was torn apart by the Zoot Suit riots. People who identified as LGBTQ were in danger of being arrested or worse. “Smog” was just beginning to appear as traffic increased and rubber plants and war industry polluted the air. And there was significant corruption in the LAPD.
Los Angeles proved to be a wonderful setting to punch through the soft fog of nostalgia about “the Greatest Generation.” While it’s true most of America was standing shoulder-to-shoulder to fight the Nazis and Axis powers, things (especially in L.A.) are a bit more complex. After all, the government needs the country’s unity—to produce the men and machines for war. Los Angeles was not only home to Hollywood, the propaganda machine for the U.S., but also the aviation industry. While “pulling together” was supposed to stitch up tears in the social, racial, sexual inequality in America, the reality wasn’t as simple as the propaganda and shared memories would have it sound. Los Angeles—and America—stood both divided and together.
Thank you for having me—hope you read and enjoy The Hollywood Spy!
THE HOLLYWOOD SPY
A Maggie Hope Mystery
by Susan Elia MacNeal
Los Angeles, 1943. As the Allies beat back the Nazis in the Mediterranean and the United States military slowly closes in on Tokyo, Walt Disney cranks out wartime propaganda and the Cocoanut Grove is alive with jazz and swing each night. But behind this sunny façade lies a darker reality. Somewhere in the lush foothills of Hollywood, a woman floats, lifeless, in the pool of one of California’s trendiest hotels. When American-born secret agent and British spy Maggie Hope learns
that this woman was engaged to her old flame, John Sterling, and that he suspects her death was no accident, intuition tells her he’s right. Leaving London under siege—not to mention flying thousands of miles—is a lot to ask. But John was once the love of Maggie’s life…and she won’t say no.
Maggie is shocked to find Los Angeles as divided as Europe itself—the Zoot Suit Riots loom large and the Ku Klux Klan casts a long shadow. As she marvels at the hatred in her home country, she can’t help but wonder what it will be like to see her lost love once again. But there is little time to dwell on memories once she starts digging into the case. As she traces a web of deception from the infamous Garden of Allah Hotel to the iconic Carthay Theater, she discovers things aren’t always the way things appear in the movies—and the political situation in America is more complicated, and dangerous, than the newsreels would have them all believe.
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.
Visit randomhousebooks.com or susaneliamacneal.com
You can find the author of on Facebook @MrChurcillsSecretary, Twitter @SusanMacNeal, and Instagram @susaneliamacneal