Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Winter Garden by Jane Thynne

review by Maryom

Four years have passed since the events of Black Roses, and Clara Vine is now an established actress at Berlin's Ufa studios about to star in a film with flying ace Ernst Udet, though like so many of the films produced there, this will be nothing more than thinly veiled piece of propaganda. Berlin has changed too in four years and the Nazi party are now firmly in control, welcoming and wooing foreign visitors like Edward, Duke of Windsor, and his wife Wallis Simpson, Charles Lindberg and two of the Mitford sisters - Unity, and Diana.  Clara still continues her dangerous balancing act passing gossip onto Joseph Goebbels while informing the British Embassy of insider information about the Nazis and their plans.
At one of the Nazis 'bride schools', young women are being trained in the domestic virtues that will be expected of them as wives of SS officers, but one of them holds a dark secret that someone is willing to kill for. Anna Hansen, ex-dancer and artists' model, seemed an unlikely choice of SS bride-to-be but the authorities seem curiously uninterested in her death and quick to cover it up. Clara, who knew Anna slightly, and her American journalist friend Mary Harker decide there's more to this than meets the eye - and decide to investigate...
Meanwhile through Udet, Clara makes friends with Ralph Sommers, a British aeronautical businessman and seemingly Nazi sympathizer, and Arno Strauss, a pilot in the technical division of the Luftwaffe conducting tests on new planes and aerial reconnaissance - areas that would surely be of interest to the British government. Through them and Mary Harker, Clara also learns of the German part in the Spanish Civil War, particularly the bombing atrocity at Guernica which points the direction that another European war might take.

The Winter Garden is a cleverly plotted thriller set against the very real backdrop of late 1930s Berlin; a world of glamour and luxury on the one hand, and squalor and food shortages on the other. A lot of the characters are of course real people and I love how Jane Thynne has brought them all to life - Goebbels with his double standards, gossipy Emmy Goering, Unity Mitford with her schoolgirl-like crush on Hitler, and her sister Diana, wife of Oswald Moseley, leader of Britain's 'blackshirts' and Nazi sympathiser.
It's a story full of tension and intrigue, in a world where it's hard to recognise friends from enemies. Clara is more confident in her role of spy now - she's been warned that the Gestapo are watching her movements, but this isn't going to put her off. They aren't the only people following her though - at one point, she has three people tailing her - all with different priorities! I often wondered how long she could go before she tripped up and revealed her secrets to the wrong person.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - thriller, historical fiction

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