Monday, April 13, 2015

Book Review [2015:12] The Winter Garden by Jane Thynne

432 pages

This is the second of the Clara Vine novels, which I discovered earlier this year when I read Black Roses. 

The year is now 1937, and Clara remains in Berlin which has changed considerably for the worse since the early 30s of the first book. Clara continues to tread a dangerous tightrope, feeding information to the British Secret Services and also to the Nazis via Joseph Goebbels (a complex double bluff). The focus of this book has moved slightly from the fascinating Magda Goebbels and on to the bizarre and notorious Nazi Bride Schools. It's not a topic I know much about and the incidental characters in the bride school are well drawn and the experience very believably described.
Again, Clara is confronted with the apparent murder of one of her acquaintances and has to tread carefully to try and determine the truth in a complex world of Nazi smoke and mirrors. Clara now has care of the son of one of her friends and this is a really good addition to her character, as she has to deal with his fascination with the Hitlerjugend without compromising her beliefs.

Thynne bravely continues to introduce real characters into the story, this time involving The Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson, The Mitford Sisters and Charles Lindburgh, as well as Eva Braun and Ernst Udet. I often find that sort of contrivance frustrating and false, but such is Thynne's ability as a writer that they pass into and out of the story, often as rather believable sideshows, and the wonderful Clara often doesn't pay them too much attention, not realising their significance until later. Unity Mitford in particular is such a marvellous addition. Clara's unwitting stumbling into the lives at centre of the Third Reich proves a brilliant foil for some amusing background stories.

The complex story of the progression to the second world war is handled competently and the war in Spain is weaved into this story without becoming too much of a historical exposition. Clara's character is totally believable and her behaviour having found herself in this rather dangerous, unpredictable situation never seems too fictional. I did balk slightly at the central premise of one of the main points of the plot which I won't discuss to avoid spoilers, but such is the joy of Thynne's writing all was quickly forgiven.

I'm really enjoying this series of books, and I look forward to the third!

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