Reviewed by Elaine Simpson-Long
This is the third in a series of books featuring Clara Vine, a film actress in pre-war Berlin. If you have not read the earlier titles Black Roses and The Winter Garden then I do urge you to do so before reading this latest title as the narrative then makes more sense.
The all pervading sense of tension and fear in Berlin at this time seeps through the pages: watching everything you say or do, choosing your friends and acquaintances carefully in case you fall foul of the ever-watchful party officials. Life is bleak and expressed in shades of grey and shadows and rain and dark corners. It makes for gripping and nerve-wracking reading.
The febrile atmosphere coming from the Chancellery transmitted itself to passing pedestrians, who glanced across apprehensively as they passed by. Even the breeze seemed nervous, chivvying the leaves along the gutters …..
Clara’s father is an pro-German English politician and this, initially, gives her the entrée into the social circle surrounding the Nazi party. As her film career becomes more successful she becomes involved with the party wives. The internecine rivalry between the acolytes surrounding Hitler and the jealousies amongst these wives all struggling to achieve eminence over their rivals makes for intriguing reading. Real live people are introduced into the stories: in a previous title we met Unity Mitford and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and in this title we meet Coco Chanel, who I did not realise was quite so pro-Nazi as she appears here.
In A War of Flowers Goebbels has become increasingly suspicious that Clara has been mingling with Berlin society and then passing snippets of information on to her contacts in the British embassy. He is right but cannot prove it and the knowledge of his mistrust puts Clara on her guard and increases her fear of discovery.
As she crossed the Odeonsplatz, Clara experienced a distinct, subliminal disquiet. It was an instinct she had developed, a prickling between her shoulders that told her she was under surveillance. Accompanying it was the acid twist of fear.
She is approached by an undercover British operative who asks her to befriend Eva Braun and to pass on anything interesting that she can discover. Fortunately, Eva is a film fan, so Clara is able to make contact with her and an unlikely friendship develops.
The character of Eva Braun is an intriguing one and the lengths to which Hitler kept the relationship under wraps because he was ‘wedded to the Reich’ are complicated and many. When Eva was at the Chancellery she was kept in her rooms, albeit luxurious ones, not allowed to be seen, and had to enter and exit by a side door. Her home is isolated and though she has a direct telephone line which connects directly to the Berghof ‘the trouble is that the SS installed it which means it connects directly to an awful lot of other people too’ She is lonely too even when she is with Wolf (Hitler) ‘we’re never alone … the wives hate me. They call me the blonde cow.’
I found Eva rather sweet and naïve. I have read very little about her (soon to be remedied) but I felt great pity for this young woman caught up in this life with no chance of escape. She tried to kill herself at least once and paid the ultimate price, as we know, for her relationship with Hitler. The author seems to take a sympathetic view of her and Clara finds herself pitying her also.
This is a tense and gripping story and I am going to say little more as I do not wish to give away the plot, and details of Clara’s mission. She knows she is in great danger but decides to stay in Berlin and do everything in her power to protect her country.
This is a series which I hope will run and run.
Elaine blogs at Randomjottings.typepad.com
Jane Thynne talks to Annabel in our BookBuzz section – click here.
Jane Thynne, A War of Flowers (Simon & Schuster, London, 2015). 978-1471131905, 416 pp., paperback.
BUY at Blackwell’s via our affiliate link (free UK P&P)