The Prisoner in the Castle by Susan Elia MacNeal

After her last mission, Maggie Hope has been designated a person who ‘knows too much.’ She and nine other similarly disposed agents have been cast away to ‘Forbidden Island’ on the Scottish coast. They while away the days reading, recreating, and drinking tea, liquor, and unfortunately, poison.

When their minder Captain Evans dies of a suspected heart attack and then one of the prisoners falls to his death in the course of 24 hours, Hope and her comrades start to look for evidence of foul play. A nasty storm covers the island and any way of getting help is severed. Add to this: rumors of ghosts on the island, Nazi spies reported in the area, and Hope’s connections in London are worried about her whereabouts.

While Hope’s old missions are referred to, I didn’t think it was essential to have read MacNeal’s other novels. She does fair job informing the reader of the important aspects of her background, but it would have fleshed out her character a bit if I had read some of the others.

Maggie Hope, the prisoner/ agents, and the other characters are all well-drawn and have some unique eccentricities. Several get killed off early, and others often after that, but all were given just enough time for the reader to question their means, opportunity, and motive. In other words, everyone is a suspect. One of the things that adds to these individuals and the narrative is MacNeal’s depth of literary allusions, from nursey rhymes to Wordsworth to Winnie the Pooh!

My issues with this one lie in the over-layering of conspiracies. I felt the narrative was a bit convoluted; it was easy to follow, but maybe was one plot line too thick.

The country-manor murders- ‘And Then Their Were None’ plot diverts enough for this one stand on its own. And if you’ve already been reading the Hope books, I think The Prisoner in the Castle will advance the series nicely.

3 out of 5 stars

Releases on August 7th.

Thank you to NetGalley, Random House Publishing Company, and Susan Elia MacNeal for the advanced copy for review.

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