Rich with political intrigue and authentic period details, this historical crime novel--the first of three--is perfect for fans of Roberta Rich, Charles Todd and Robert Harris. In Berlin, 1933, British actress Clara Vine finds herself dangerously involved with the British intelligence service.
Clara Vine, a half-Jewish Anglo-German, uses her unique access to the upper echelons of pre-war Nazi society to spy for her native Britain. The novel richly fuses fact and fiction with a cast of real Nazis and their British admirers, such as the Mitford sisters and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Clara Vine, through her friendship with Eva Braun, finds herself enmeshed in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The setting of pre-war Germany is a treasure trove, and the irresistably fresh perspective of Nazi wives puts a new spin on an ever-fascinating era, fraught with glamour, political tension, tragedy and romance.
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JANE THYNNE was born in Venezuela before moving to London, England. After graduating from Oxford, she worked for the BBC, The Sunday Times, and The Daily Telegraph. She continues to freelance as a journalist, while working on her novels of historical fiction. Her novels have been published in French, German, and Italian. She lives in London with her husband and three children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Paris in late August 1938 was a city living on its nerves.
Rumors swarmed around the streets like rats, refugees from every corner of Europe brushed shoulders on the boulevards, and the cafés were a babel of foreign languages—Spanish, Italian, Czech, Polish, and of course, German, rising and falling in anxious disputation. In the city center the clatter of cream-topped buses, the blare of taxi horns, and the shouts of traffic gendarmes were overlaid with the distant sound of reservists, in hastily assembled khaki, marching along the Champs-Élysées. German, Austrian, Polish, and Hungarian Jews congregated in the Marais quarter in anxious exile, scraping a living by day, and drinking it by night. Morsels of foreign news were picked up and ravenously chewed on, then discarded as propaganda or lies. Refugees choked the railway stations. Native Parisians were packing up and moving their families to the country. Others lingered longer than usual in the churches. A dry summer wind blew around the city, chivvying along the gutters a vortex of leaves and litter and scraps of newspaper alarm. Hitler was claiming that the German-speaking population of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland, just south of the German border, desired reunion with the Reich. If the Czech government did not agree, he would march in and take it. France and England seemed certain to reject Germany’s demands. Hitler had set the date of October 1 for military action. The threat of war hung like a distant thunderstorm on a sunny day.
Clara Vine threw open the tall shutters, leaned over the narrow balcony, and gazed down at the Boulevard de Sébastopol below. She had only three days on location in Paris; the last two of them had been spent shooting scenes for her latest film, an adaptation of Maupassant’s Bel Ami, but the third, today, was entirely, gloriously, free. A whole day ahead of her and only an engagement that evening before catching a train at the Gare du Nord early the next morning and heading back home to the Babelsberg studio in Berlin. She could visit the Louvre, go shopping, see a concert, or maybe just sit in a square beneath the dusty trees and drink a café crème. An entire day to herself in Paris! No lines to learn, no character to assume. No takes or retakes, no director’s temper or costume fittings. No delays or disputes. After filming almost nonstop for months, a day off in a foreign location felt like a fantasy. And despite the mood of the city, Clara was determined to make the most of it.
The Bellevue, where the cast was staying, was not everyone’s idea of Parisian chic. Its forty rooms were squeezed into a narrow, five-story building, and Clara’s bedroom on the top floor was sweltering. The paint on the wrought-iron balconies was flaking, the plaster decayed, and the entire building reeked of drains. But who cared about that when there was all of Paris to look at?
The city seemed impossibly beautiful, the elegant precision of its buildings and the classical uniformity of its blocks and streets bathed in a golden light that appeared to saturate the pale stone. Even now, in high summer, when most Parisians were on their vacations, the pavements were thronged with people. Immediately below Clara’s window, between the patchy trunks of the plane trees, a cart bulged with red, yellow, and pink blooms, like a bright shout of color in the morning air. Vans making deliveries and a porter hauling a crate of baguettes collided with a man bearing a box of oranges on his head. In the fishmonger’s window a chorus line of doomed lobsters waved their limbs helplessly on a tray. Young women with crimson lips and kohl-lined eyes clipped past wearing Breton-necked tops with wide scarves slung diagonally across them, in keeping with the latest fashion, and little felt hats studded with flowers or feathers. Some wore printed summer dresses in ice-cream colors, and they even managed to make their heavy wooden-soled shoes look stylish. Men in open-necked shirts and berets swaggered past. Despite the undercurrent of nerves that rippled through the city, the citizens on the Boulevard de Sébastopol were doing their best impression of elegant nonchalance.
What a contrast with Berlin! In Clara’s home city the daily roundups of Jews and the sporadic Gestapo cruelties had worsened throughout the year. That spring Hitler had marched into Austria and found himself greeted not with hostilities but with a carpet of roses; Blumenkreig, he called it, a war of flowers. The lack of international outcry over the Anschluss had only emboldened him. Hitler was, everyone realized, more confident than ever.
Unlike Clara herself.
Clara Vine had made a successful career for herself since arriving in Berlin five years earlier. She had seven films to her name, and by sheer chance had forged connections with many people in Berlin’s high society, including the wives of several politicians. Yet despite her acquaintance with his own wife, Joseph Goebbels, the minister for propaganda and public enlightenment, had become increasingly suspicious of Clara’s motives. It was as though he was determined to prove what he suspected—that even though her father was a British aristocrat and Nazi sympathizer, and she herself was working full-time in the Babelsberg film studio, Clara was an agent of British intelligence. That she was passing snippets of information and gossip to her contacts in the British embassy. That she deliberately mingled in Nazi society to observe the private life of the Third Reich.
It would have been absurd, if it hadn’t also been true.
What made Clara’s position more perilous was the discovery she made when she arrived in Germany, that her own grandmother was a Jew. The document of Aryan heritage Clara carried everywhere was as much a fabrication as the russet highlights in her hair, but infinitely more dangerous.
Every day she asked herself why she stayed in Berlin. Every day she came up with the same answer. She would stay in Berlin as long as she could because it meant seeing her godson, Erich. He was the only man in her life right now, and for his sake most of all she prayed that war could somehow be averted.
A passing barrow boy aimed an admiring whistle up at her balcony, forcing Clara’s mind back to the present. Paris had always been one of those big, statement places, like a famous perfume that everyone knows, burdened with the weight of expectation. The Parisian air was a complex fragrance of baking and drains, a whisper of flowers, undercut with something acrid and rotten. The leavings of vegetables from the market stalls mingled with the enticing aroma of garlic and coffee. Berlin’s own air, by contrast, carried the gray, metallic edge of wet stone and steel offset by the tang of pine from the Grunewald.
Much as she relished the prospect of a day in Paris, suddenly Clara felt herself wishing she had someone to share it with. Most of the time she liked her solitude; at the age of thirty-one, she considered it part of her identity. Her self-sufficiency was a carapace toughened against the barbs of loneliness, and safer too. But solitude seemed wrong in the city of romance. This was Paris after all, whose streets murmured with the promises of lovers through the ages, and she was alone. As she leaned back against the casement, a whirlwind of memories assailed her, like leaves thrown around in a storm.
There were only two men she had ever cared for, and both had disappeared from her life. She had not seen Ralph Sommers, the man she had met in Berlin the previous year, since the day he left for London. Since then, his work as a British agent had been exposed. Now it was too dangerous for him to return to Germany. Ralph had sent Clara a message saying that so long as she stayed there, she must do her best to forget him. It hurt, but she was trying her hardest.
Then there was Leo Quinn. Leo, her first love, who had returned to England after she turned down his proposal of marriage. In her darkest moments Clara questioned if there was something within her that destroyed her deepest relationships. Did she shy away from intimacy or deliberately reject it? Did she emit some invisible signal that warned, “Leave me alone”?
The previous evening her film’s director, Willi Forst, had hosted a dinner at Maxim’s for the cast. Maxim’s, just off the Place de la Concorde, was the restaurant of choice for German visitors to Paris, and Willi Forst thought its Art Nouveau opulence perfectly suited to celebrating Maupassant’s story. The group had the best table in the house, the one usually reserved for the Aga Khan, spread with snowy linen tablecloths and silver cutlery, and they were served platters of oysters with vinegar and shallots, quenelles de brochet floating in a rich cream sauce, and crème brûlée to finish. Ice buckets cradling bottles of vintage Krug rested to one side, furred with frost. The actors indulged themselves loudly, jokes and stories flowing, impressions being performed, anecdotes related. The sheer relief of being away from Berlin inspired a feverish jollity, a holiday atmosphere that had already prompted a couple of romantic liaisons among cast members and promised more nights of passion ahead. But none of the actors had propositioned Clara. It was as though they divined something in her that told them their approaches would be rebuffed. As they reveled in the unaccustomed fine food and called loudly for more wine, Clara felt the restaurant’s other clientele eyeing the Germans, in their expensive suits and scented furs, with wariness and resentment.
“To my magnificent cast!”
Willi Forst raised a glass and beamed. Sitting there, Clara thought back to the newspaper pictures in March, when Hitler had entered Vienna in his six-wheeled bulletproof Mercedes, striking his familiar pose, upright, gripping the windscreen with his left hand while raising the right in the Nazi salute. The crowd had erupted in a volcano of feeling, and flowers rained down on him like ash. Would these Paris streets too be overtaken by tramping boots and thumping drums? Might France go the way of Austria? Austria wasn’t even Austria anymore; it was part of Greater Germany. It seemed countries could end, just as much as relationships.
A knock at her door made her turn. It was the bellboy, wearing a little navy cap and holding out a manila envelope. “Pour vous, mademoiselle.”
“Merci.” She fished for a coin, then opened the envelope. Inside was a heavy cream notecard with the logo of Big Ben and a company name at the top. Beneath was spiky, academic handwriting.
Dear Miss Vine,
Please forgive me for approaching you directly, but I noticed from an article in France Soir that you were in Paris and felt compelled to get in touch. We would be very interested in discussing a proposal with you. Would you be free to meet at the café Chez André in the Rue Marbeuf, today at 12:00 noon? If you are able to come I shall be looking out for you,
Sincerely, Guy Hamilton,
Representative, London Films
London Films? Clara frowned. She had heard of it. From what she remembered, London Films had been started by the Hungarian émigré Alexander Korda. The company was based at Denham in Buckinghamshire and had hired Winston Churchill as a screenwriter. Hadn’t they made The Private Life of Henry VIII and Things to Come and last year’s Fire over England, with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh? Clara had taken a special interest in that one because a director had once casually referred to her as “the German Vivien Leigh,” so she had attended the first night at the Ufa Palast, closely studying the actress’s classic porcelain beauty, before concluding that the director, unfortunately, was exaggerating. Clara might have the same heart-shaped face, clear brow, and dark eyebrows, but her cheeks were fuller than Vivien Leigh’s, her skin more olive, and her mouth had a rebellious purse to it that gave her looks a distinctive, less classic edge.
She read the note again, then checked her watch. It was already eleven. She was suddenly, unaccountably excited. This proposal would almost certainly be the offer of a part—she was becoming better known, and as many of the German Jewish actors and directors who had been forced to leave Berlin had now relocated to England, it was likely that one of them had mentioned her name. And maybe, if this company was offering her a job, she should take it. What might it be like returning to London, picking up the threads of a life she had abandoned five years ago, and doing an ordinary job without risk or subterfuge? Seeing her father, sister, and brother, and other people who had been consigned firmly to the past. That was a prospect both consoling and daunting.
After clanging the shutters closed, she grabbed a short jacket to slip over her dress. Peering in the mirror, she applied a thin layer of Elizabeth Arden’s Velvet Red—always her first weapon of concealment—and gave her reflection an encouraging smile. Dabbing a trace of powder over the freckles that the sun had brought out, she pulled a brush through her hair and pinned it loosely at the nape of her neck with a diamanté clip. Then she donned her sunglasses.
Clearly the idea of a day without business was just a fantasy after all.
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Book Description Doubleday Canada 2015-09-15, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Paperback. Publisher overstock, may contain remainder mark on edge. Bookseller Inventory # 9780385682916B
Book Description Doubleday Canada, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0385682913