Both are set shortly after WW II with The Secret of Magic in 1946 and Go Set a Watchman in about 1955.
In each book the young woman is residing in New York City and travels to the deep American South. Regina is on her way to rural Mississippi and Jean Louise to her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama.
They travel by train which brings about the first difference in their experience based on race. Regina, a Negro in the language of that era which I shall continue to use in this post, is shunted in Richmond, Virginia to an inferior colored car for the balance of her journey. Jean Louise rides with comfort in the white section all the way to Alabama.
In each book lawyers play prominent and secondary roles. In important roles Regina is a fresh law school graduate while Atticus Finch has been a lawyer for 40 years. District Attorney Nathan Bedford Forrest Duval V better known as Bed and young Henry Clinton are more modest characters.
In each book the legal establishment is prejudiced against Negroes. Both Bed and Atticus believe Negroes need to stay in the place white society has assigned them. Each of them is a segregationist.
Yet both are part, albeit a very small part, of coming change in race relations.
Bed convenes a grand jury to investigate the death of a Negro, Joe Howard Wilson. While it is perfunctory and ineffective it is a step towards justice for Negroes in the South.
Atticus can see Negroes participating in the governance of the South though he does not believe them ready to take on the role.
Each book sets out the increasing presence of the NACCP lawyers in the South.
Regina is sent by Thurgood Marshall of the New York City office of the NACCP. She is one of numerous young lawyers being sent to the South to defend Negroes and challenge the segregation statutes.
A decade later in Go Set a Watchman Atticus and Henry take on the defence of a Negro charged with vehicular manslaughter partly to avoid having an NACCP lawyer sent to defend the young man.
How the legal system of the South approaches the murder of a Negro, The Secret of Magic, and the killing of a white man, Go Set a Watchman, is predictably different. The death of Joe Howard is ignored. The death of the white man sees the Negro accused promptly charged.
At the personal level Jean Louise is the centerpiece for a garden party of the leading white ladies of Maycomb. Regina stops all conversation and draws a racist remark when she walks through a grand party on the lawn of Calhoun Place in Revere.
Each book has a prominent white woman, Mary Pickett Calhoun and Aunt Alexandra, staunchly maintaining the traditional social structure of the community. Neither would even think of a Negro woman being involved in their activities.
Both books set out the emphasis on manners and language of the South of that era. At the same time there is the constant presence of racism where a white will often not bother to greet a Negro by name. Underlying all is the constant threat of violence against Negroes who do not live by the white imposed codes of conduct.
Neither Regina nor Jean Louise is prepared to accept those conventions. Each is a member of the generation in which Negro and white Americans will desegregate the United States.
The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson