As the tenth Maggie Hope novel, The Hollywood Spy, goes out into the world, I think it’s more than fitting that a pivotal scene is set in a library.
This particular scene takes place in Los Angeles’s magnificent downtown Central Library, and for guidance on how that library worked I must thank Jen Stock, a dear friend and the library director of the Upper Darby Township Library in Pennsylvania. When I asked her how Maggie Hope might have done research in 1943, she put me in touch with Kelly Wallace at the DTLA Central Library, who kindly walked me through exactly how the library was out back then and how Maggie would have gone about doing her research.
Later, on a trip of my own to Los Angeles, I was able to visit that same library. While inside it looked vastly different than it did in 1943, the glorious architecture was still the same. And I was delighted to see a collection of wooden card catalogues! (Although I had to explain to my disbelieving fifteen-year-old son how we used to use them—I didn’t even try to explain what we did with microfiches…)
If you’ve read the Maggie Hope series, you’ve probably noticed that in most of the books, Maggie ends up going to a library for more information—it’s often a pivotal part of the story. I’ve had the privilege to write about the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, the London Library, and the British library.
But none are as dear to me as my own hometown library, The North Tonawanda Public Library in Western New York, just north of Buffalo. There the now-retired Elizabeth Lewin noticed when I was about eight or so that I’d outgrown the children’s section, but maybe needed some guidance with the adult books. She took me in hand and made wonderful recommendations. I distinctly remember her pulling out a copy of Mrs. Miniver and handing it to me—a book I loved.
I’ve often wondered if her handing me that library book had anything to do with my writing the Maggie Hope series, about a strong woman “doing her bit” for the war effort and set for the most part in London? I do believe so—and I’ll be forever grateful.
Susan Elia MacNeal