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15 March 2014

Jane Thynne: The Winter Garden

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Berlin 1937 - an adventure in dangerous times
Jane Thynne has written a clever and fascinating historical adventure about a female British agent living at the heart of Nazi Germany in 1937.

Clara Vine, last seen in "Black Roses" set in Germany in 1933, is the daughter of a German mother and a prominent British politician who is an important Nazi sympathiser. This time Clara is still in Germany in 1937 when Hitler is in total control and changing the Reich into a Jew-hating and war-mongering society. Clara is working as an actress making pro-Nazi films and has become a personal "friend" of some of the wives of top Nazis. She passes important intelligence on the Nazi elite to a contact at the British Embassy. Her role is doubly dangerous as her most closely guarded secret is that her Grandmother was Jewish.

Jane Thynne describes Germany in 1937 in intimate detail, especially the enormous changes that have been made to the country and its people since the rise of Hitler. She also describes the fascinating, unreal and excessive lives of the top Nazis and their families through Clara's association with dangerous and creepy Dr Goebbels and his wife and 4 children, the Ribbentrops, and the fairytale world of Herman Goering, the larger than life head of the Luftwaffe. She also paints a sad picture of the many changes being made to her beloved Berlin as the Nazi doctrine closes down the cosmopolitan life of the pre-war capital. There are cameo appearances by prominent foreign Nazi sympathisers, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the Mitford twins (one married to Oswald Mosley) and Charles Lindbergh.

While the background story is really about Clara and her US journalist friend Mary Harker as they try to pass the real story of what is happening in Germany to the British and US governments and public, the story weaves around the puzzling murder of Anna Hansen (who Clara knew as a dancer) when she was attending a mandatory Bride School to allow her to marry a senior SS officer. One of the girls at the Bride School passes Mary a writing desk that Anna had hidden away. It is not clear until much later on why Anna was murdered and what was at stake.

At the same time Clara gets to know a top Luftwaffe test pilot who takes her on a joyride in one of the latest planes and provides her with key information about the readiness of the Luftwaffe for war. Clara suddenly finds that she is being followed, her apartment is trashed, she is the target of a hit and run and eventually gets taken in by the Gestapo. It is only her contacts with the Nazi hierarchy that spares her from the ultimate Gestapo treatment.

What I really liked about this book was the intimate look at the life of the Nazi elite at the time they were changing the country in the direction of war. She brings us a very believable character in Clara, at the same time both scared of what is happening to her and having the guts press on and even do a deal with the devil (Goebbels) to preserve her cover. It looks like Thynne has at least one more book to come which I am sure will be even more interesting as war gets closer and the dangers become greater for Clara.

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