A War of Flowers by Jane Thynne
|A War of Flowers by Jane Thynne|
|Category: Crime (Historical)|
|Reviewer: Julia Jones|
|Summary: A War of Flowers is the third of Jane Thynne's thoroughly researched and beautifully written novels of Nazi Berlin from the female point of view. A book to leave you eager for more.|
|Buy? yes||Borrow? yes|
|Pages: 416||Date: March 2015|
|Publisher: Simon & Schuster|
|External links: Author's website|
A War of Flowers is the third of Jane Thynne's thoroughly researched and beautifully written novels of Nazi Berlin from the female point of view. Reading them is an immersive experience; the joy of the book is in location, description, comment. The action does not rush but the ending expertly pulls plot strings together and has a wow factor that will leave the reader eager for more.
Clara Vine, Thynne's heroine, is an English actress who has found modest success at the UFA film studios in Babelsberg. She is at odds with her right-wing family at home and mourns the early death of her sensitive, unhappy mother. It's only recently that she has discovered that her maternal grandmother was Jewish – a secret she must continue to hide. Clara's life is full of secrets as she uses her privileged access to the inner sanctums of the Third Reich to glean information which she passes back to the British Intelligence Service. She has needed to learn the locations of dead letter boxes and how to recognise and lose unwanted pursuers. Her skills as an actress and the precise control of facial muscles that she has learned on screen are of course invaluable assets but what I especially enjoyed in this volume was the delicate yet convincing way Thynne developed Clara's almost extra-sensory perceptions of danger and possible pursuit.
The series began with an idea of looking at the wives of the Nazi leaders, Emmy Goering, Magda Goebbels, Annelise von Ribbentrop, Lina Heydrich, Marga Himmler and all. They are neither an attractive nor a contented bunch, almost as busy back-stabbing and plotting against one another as their husbands are. Thynne's success in this volume is her portrait of Eva Braun, Hitler's suicidal mistress, whom all the wives unite in despising. Eva is bored, lonely, delusional. She has been forbidden to write her diary – though Clara Vine's most direct employer, Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister is busily writing his – and her only solace is her new hobby of perfume-making. British Intelligence wants Clara to befriend her.
There is an obvious strategic problem with writing a spy story that depends on female characters as the women in Nazi Germany were so rigorously excluded from positions of power. Thynne's solution to this in the Clara Vine / Eva Braun story is delightfully ingenious but what I enjoyed just as much was the secondary story set in the offices of the Führerin, Gertrud Scholtz-Klink. I hadn't previously comprehended the extent of the machinery for the indoctrination of German women and found the information here depressing and chilling. There is little overt violence in A War of Flowers but the portrayal of organised officialdom closing in on the epileptic child, Hans-Otto, is quite sufficiently chilling.
On the public stage events are set in August-September 1938, the period of Chamberlain's appeasement and the failed Oster Conspiracy against Hitler. Sections of the action are located on a Strength Through Joy cruise ship, in Paris and in Munich (including the Berghof) but Berlin remains imaginatively central and Clara Vine's journey though the febrile, echoing Chancellery is finely written indeed. A book full of knowledge and insights.
The obvious series to read alongside the Clara Vine novels is her husband Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series, of which the most recent is The Lady from Zagreb. If the references to perfumes intrigue you, Perfumes: The A - Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez comes highly recommended. Clara Vine is at odds with her sister in a way which might echo the historical splits between the Mitford sisters at the outbreak of World War 2. Laura Thompson has recently written a biography of Nancy Mitford.
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You can read more book reviews or buy A War of Flowers by Jane Thynne at Amazon.com.
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