Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Review of Black Roses by Jayne Thynne (Simon and Schuster, 2013)

1933.  Clara Vine is a young British actress and daughter of a German mother and a former Conservative MP with fascist leanings.  Fed-up with life in Britain and with an offer for the possibility of work at the famous Ufa studios she heads to Berlin.  Partly through circumstance, partly through her heritage, Clara falls into a circle of senior Nazi wives, including Magda Goebbels who recruits her to model new German fashion and becomes her confidante.  She is also being pursued by Goebbels right-hand man, Klaus Muller.  Clara is no chip off the block, however, and loathes what the Nazis stand for and are up to.  After an encounter with Leo Quinn, a spy whose cover is working in the British Embassy passport office, Clara agrees to continue her association with the Nazi wives and to pass on anything she learns.  It’s a dangerous game and it becomes more so when Magda Goebbels enlists her in deadly game.

Black Roses is set in Berlin 1933 shortly after the Nazis have come to power and are undertaking the first wave of sweeping changes.  The main protagonist is Clara Vine, a young British actress who hopes to establish a career at the Ufa studios.  Shortly after arriving in the city, she falls into the company of senior Nazi wives and enrolled into a new fashion state agency that aims to dress German women in appropriate clothes.  Principled and determined, with little time for the Nazi ethos and behaviour, she’s found herself in a difficult situation.  That is made more unpalatable when a British embassy employee, Leo Quinn, asks her to continue to meet the wives and collect and report any interesting information.  As she works undercover, unfolding events centred on the secrets of Magda Goebbels are drawing her ever further into a dangerous situation, and at the same time she’s falling for Leo while also dating a senior Nazi.  Giving a sense of authenticity, Thynne populates the book with many real characters, events and fashions (and there’s certainly a strong focus on the fashion), as well historical context and the geography/atmosphere of the city.  Clara, the set-up and the real historical context are intriguing and the story should have fully captured my attention and imagination. However, I never quite got fully engaged with the tale until the last section.  I’m not sure why – partly voice, style, focus, pace, I think.  It was just one of those stories that was okay, without being a compelling, immersive read for much of it.  I’ll probably still try next book in the series as there’s a lot of promise in the main character and premise and I often find the second book clicks more strongly than the first.

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