Friday, 3 April 2015

Pre WWII Berlin

Berlin, 1937.  The city radiates glamour and ambition.  But danger lurks in every shadow.

Anna Hansen, a bride-to-be, is a pupil at one of Hitler's notorious Nazi Bride Schools, where young women are schooled on the art of being an SS officer's wife.  Then, one night, she is brutally murdered and left in the gardens of the school.  Her death will be hushed up and her life forgotten.

Clara Vine is an actress at Berlin's famous Ulfa studios by day and an undercover British Intelligence agent by night.  She knew Anna and is disturbed by news of her death.  She cannot understand why someone would want to cover it up, but she soon discovers that Anna's murder is linked to a far more ominous secret.

Although this is the second book in the series this reader read it as a stand-alone but will definitely be going back to read the first one.

The beginning was rather a surprise and the exactly right setting for this novel.  The idea of having the female lead (Clara Vine) as an undercover spy who is for all intense and purposes a German actress was inspired and shows some of the glamour of the time.  Throughout the course of the novel the author mixes real life people, or rather the Nazi elite, with the female lead and her world.  In her role as cinema star she is expected to attend some parties held by these elite and even encounters the two Mitford sisters and the honeymooning Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson.  These parties allow Clara to glean information for the British by listening in on the elite’s conversations.

The supposed main focus of the book took ages to come to the fore.  And Clara did very little of the investigating apart from being given the victims last possession.  It seemed to this reader that the author was more concerned with the historical aspects than the investigating aspects.  Even when we are suddenly introduced to Mary there is still little investigation done.

Who exactly is Mary and what is her relation to Clara?  She just suddenly appears.  It is highly possible that this character was introduced in the previous book as there was very little told about her in this particular novel.  Another person show suddenly appears without any formal introduction was Clara’s godson/son who she constantly tells us she loves.  I found that he had few redeeming qualities and was more a puppet showing the effects of the Hitler Youth movement more than anything else.

The author could write up a storm making the reader feel the desolation and despair of the people living in Berlin at the beginning of Hitler’s rule just before the outbreak of World War II.  They are trying to get on with their lives under the ever present scrutiny of the Nazis.  The descriptions are so real you feel as though you are there too.  Yet there were also occurrences where the writing was clunky with the same thoughts being expressed five times within five pages.  But this might be a proofing issue.

I loved the premise of this heroine but did we really need to have the romantic elements, especially when the British agent felt as though he was put in the pages at the last possible moment.  I personally fell for the German suitor who had more depth to him.  Suppose though the British agent was added so that the author had something to tie this book to the next one in the series.  But surely the strength of the female lead should be enough to do that.

This reader thought that the author spent too much time telling the reader what they should think and feel rather than allowing the reader to work things out for themselves.  Perhaps this reader’s experience of this book would have been enhanced having started with the first book where the background information obviously is not only for this character but also for some of the lesser characters.  That said, if you like factually based historical mystery novels this book may well be right up your alley.

Full Disclosure: ARC received from Netgalley for an honest review.

I rated this book 4 stars on Netgalley, and 'I really liked it' on Goodreads (4 stars) and Amazon (4 stars).

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