Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Raise a Glass of (Scottish) Gin to THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT!

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: "You're going to Scotland and you don't like whiskey or play golf? Isn't that kind of a waste?" 

No. No indeed.

I may not drink whiskey (or whisky) or play golf for that matter — but it truly was one of the best trips of my life.

I fell in love with Scotland.

The Scottish trip was to research my newest Maggie Hope book, THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT. I spent a week in Edinburgh and then a week in Arisaig (on Scotland's west coast, near Port William). 

The week in Edinburgh was to research a plot line featuring Sarah Sanderson (remember her from MR. CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY?) Well, Sarah's still touring with the Vic-Wells Ballet (the precursor to the Royal Ballet), when a bevy of ballerinas become ill with a strange disease — or is it foul play? 

Meanwhile, Maggie — completely gutted from her last mission to Berlin where she did a number of unsavory things and is facing the moral fallout — is back at her old training camp in Arisaig, this time as an instructor. 

Here's where things get interesting. The actual manor house where the SOE (Special Operation Executive) agents trained is now a bed and breakfast, called Arisaig House. So I was not only able to go to Arisaig House, tour the buildings and walk the grounds, but I was able to stay there.

Readers, I loved it.

I saw exactly where all the agents did their paramilitary training. I saw the bridge they pretend bombed, the huts where the ammunition was kept, the beach where they threw grenades. ("You might see the odd grenade — they wash up on shore occasionally," said the gardener.) There are memorials to the brave women and men who trained there both at Arisaig House and also in the town of Arisaig.

Meanwhile, I was the only guest at the inn, so the family who runs it (and their three golden labs) pretty much adopted their odd American novelist for the week. I felt like an exchange student. It was fantastic.

Now, I might not be much for whiskey, but I would like to raise a glass today to toast Scotland — and I'm going to create a summer cocktail, using gin. 

Yes, gin.

Gin's having a bit of a renaissance in Scotland, with small-batch, handcrafted boutique gins using indigenous Scottish herbs and spices. Hendrick's is getting better known here in the U.S. (a gin that tones down the juniper flavor in favor of notes of cucumber and rose) — but there are others also worth seeking out, such as Edinburgh, Botanic, and Caorunn.

And so, without further ado, I'd like to present a summery cocktail, perfect for sipping while reading THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT — The Arisaig, a variation on the classic Gin and Tonic.

The Arisaig Cocktail

Here's what you'll need for ingredients:

2 parts Scottish gin (or any gin, really — but humor me)

2/3 parts freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 part Elderflower liqueur (I'm partial to St-Germain, but I hear the Bitter Truth is excellent)
Mint leaves
Cucumber slices to garnish

Tonic water

And here's what to do:

Add mint to glass and break with muddler. Add ice. Add other ingredients. Top with tonic and give it a still. Garnish with cucumber slice.

And, as they say in Gaelic, Slàinte!

FROM THE PUBLISHER: For fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, and Anne Perry, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent is a gripping new mystery featuring intrepid spy and code breaker Maggie Hope. And this time, the fallout of a deadly plot comes straight to her own front door.
World War II rages on across Europe, but Maggie Hope has finally found a moment of rest on the pastoral coast of western Scotland. Home from an undercover mission in Berlin, she settles down to teach at her old spy training camp, and to heal from scars on both her body and heart. Yet instead of enjoying the quieter pace of life, Maggie is quickly drawn into another web of danger and intrigue. When three ballerinas fall strangely ill in Glasgow—including one of Maggie’s dearest friends—Maggie partners with MI-5 to uncover the truth behind their unusual symptoms. What she finds points to a series of poisonings that may expose shocking government secrets and put countless British lives at stake. But it’s the fight brewing in the Pacific that will forever change the course of the war—and indelibly shape Maggie’s fate.

“You’ll be [Maggie Hope’s] loyal subject, ready to follow her wherever she goes.”O: The Oprah Magazine

THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT is available at your local independent bookstore, library, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

DEBS: Can I just say that I LOVED The Prime Minister's Secret Agent, and that reading Susan's post about staying in Arisaig House gave me chills?  And that I LOVE Scotland?  And to top it all, I love gin, and especially Hendrick's, The Botanist, and other new Scottish boutique gins that are cropping up.  Maybe I need another research trip... But in the meantime, I'm raising my glass to Scotland, Maggie Hope, and THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT. And I can't wait for the next installment. (No pressure or anything, Susan...)

Happy pub day!!! 


  1. Susan, your trip sounds so wonderful; how great to be at the actual manor house where the training occurred . . . .

    Happy pub day . . . I'm looking forward to reading The Prime Minister's Secret Agent!

  2. When I was reading about you staying at that house in your notes on the end, I got chills, too. What a wonderful bit of research.

    I've read an ARC of this book, and if you love the series, you will love it. If you don't already love the series, what's wrong with you? Pick up the first and start reading today.

  3. Susan, hurray! we love a book launch at JRW--so happy for you! Your story made me yearn to see Scotland--at least we get to see it through your eyes...

    Off to share the news! xox

  4. Happy pub day, Susan. The book, the research trip, the gin cocktail, each sounds as fabulous as the last.


  5. I am happily reading The Prime Minister's Secret Agent right captivated! Why can't I set a book in Scotland? Or London? Instead, mine's in the Bronx. Are there B&Bs in the Bronx?

    We're all wishing HAPPY DAY to Susan. And that cocktail looks fantastic - a sort of twist on one of my all time favorites: mojito.

  6. Happy Pub Day, Susan!! It's a wonderful book, and I'm sure it will garner the success it deserves.

    Now finish the next one!

    debs xox

  7. Happy pub day, Susan! That trip sounds amazing. Scotland always sounds fun on it's own, but to actually stay (and be "adopted" by the family) at the house from the book is even more fun.

    Not too big of a drinker these days, but the cocktail looks cool and refreshing.

  8. Loved the book!
    Happy pub day, Susan.

  9. Hallie, City Island is the Bronx, and they do have a B&B on the island. Not the same as Scotland but you can eat lots of lobster!

  10. My review is now up is anyone is interested in reading it.

  11. Hope the day is all that you want it to be Susan. Good luck with the launch and book tours to follow.

  12. Susan, you had me drooling with envy in your description of your Scotland research trip and stay in the B&B. That you got to stay in such an historical manor, which just happened to be Arisaig, seems like fate served up on a silver platter. Happy launch day for what I know will be a fantastic read!

    My close friends know that I have a Scottish fetish, even have a Pinterest board named that. I want to go to Scotland so very much, and I hope to in the next several years. How wonderful it would be to stay at Arisaig House.

  13. Happy Pub Day, Susan!!!!

    You know, Scotland was never on my Top 5 list of places I want to go - - until today. Now, I'm itching to go in the worst kinda way. Great post!

  14. I'm in LAs Vegas so HOURS behind you! But still cheering and applauding and toasting our wonderful Susan and her brilliant new book!


  15. I adore Scotland, don't drink (anymore ... plenty of hard cider consumed in Scottish pubs in years past, however), and LOVE Susan's books. Can't wait to dig into the new one. Congratulations!

  16. Susan,
    Happy pub day! Is MacNeal a Scottish name or Irish name? I wondered about your name.

    One of my ancestors was born off the coast of Scotland on the island of Gigha.

    I've been to Scotland several times and it's one of my favorite places. Last time I was there, I visited Edinburgh and walked on the Royal Mile. They have a wonderful Museum of Childhood (if it is still there).

    Look forward to reading about Maggie's new adventures!

  17. I can hardly wait to read your latest book! I went to Scotland last September and loved it. I really want to get back and explore more. Fortunately for me I do drink whiskey or whisky and beer. But you can keep the golf!

  18. Happy Pub Day, Susan! I've enjoyed all your other Maggie Hope books so I know I'll like this one, too.

    And how wonderful to stay at that manor house! I'll be sure to pay close attention to the details about the house when I read the book.

  19. I love hearing these stories about research in far away places. Your trip sounds fantastic (being "adopted" by the gardener's family!) and I'm adding your book to my TBR pile!

    And Mark's comment made ma laugh out loud!

  20. Happy Pub Day, Susan!

    And for those of you who haven't had the pleasure yet of reading THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT, you're in for a treat. Susan has an amazing attention to detail AND characters you love AND a twisty plot. Pretty much the perfect historical mystery.

  21. Congratulations, Susan! I can't wait to get my hands on this one.

    And I love love love your signature cocktail. St Germain always makes my day (or my cocktail, same thing really). :-)

    Have a great day!

  22. Sounds like a great read - can't wait to add it to the TBR stack!

  23. So so so so excited about the new Maggie Hope! Congratulations, Susan. And since I adore gin, I will be making this cocktail soon. Wishing you great success with the new novel. Your fellow PH, Kim :)

  24. Happy pub day, Susan! It sound like your chance to stay at Arisaig House was every writer's research dream. Can't wait to read THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT.

  25. Happy Pub Day, Susan! And it sounds, from all the comments about gin, that it's best spent IN a pub!

  26. Hmmm, Scottish gin. Can't imagine it.

    I have memories of gin gimlets and a Tom Collins or two along the boardwalk in Atlantic city (before I was legal, but no one ever carded a girl). That was back before most places were air conditioned, and what you drank was what cooled you down (for me, gimlets or gin-and-tonic). Or martinis. Or, at a disco, a sloe gin fizz.

    In my thirties, I started to get dehydrated when I drank gin, so now I'm a scotch-and-water-no-ice gal. I think if I were in Scotland, that's what I'd be drinking.

  27. Here's a toast to Susan's book--and to gin. First time I met the JR's was at Bouchercon '13, when they held a panel on "Famous First Lines." It was a hilarious presentation, with Rhys acting as moderator. At one point, after much irreverence from the panel, she said: "I'll have to drink gin tonight." D Crombie said, "Oh--so that's her excuse." Never fear, Rhys, no excuse required. It's one of nature's perfect potions, just as close to a legal drug as the Controlled Substance Act allows.

  28. Thanks, everyone! In Rhode Island and just got back from the beach and having lobster rolls with the hubby, kiddo and BFF. What a great day!

  29. Wow. What a fascinating trip. I'd love to read this book.

    Pen M

  30. Susan, I don't play golf or drink whiskey either, but I did love Scotland on two trips. I've never been in Arisiag- cant' with to read the book!- but we were at a lovely Victorian hotel on the outskirts of Oban that looked a lot like it. It was once someone's very splendid, secluded home. And during the war it HQ for Navy officers and I'm pretty sure they were doing intelligence work. There were photos on a wall; sure does bring it closer. (There is a chance I am making up the intelligence part) So I can sort of imagine your trip.It's on my list now, if I ever get back there.

  31. I MEANT "can't WAIT to read the book" It's already ordered.

  32. I visited Edinburgh in 1966 and loved it -- have never been back. Thanks for the flavor!!