By Jane Thynne; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
An aspiring young actress in 1933 Berlin is asked to spy on Magda Goebbels, First Lady of the Third Reich.
Clara Vine is the youngest daughter of a former British member of Parliament. With the death of her German mother, Clara’s family gives her little attention and no support for becoming an actress.
At a party, a journalist visiting from Berlin suggests she try movies. He gives her the name of a producer friend in Berlin looking for actresses fluent in both German and English. She impulsively decides to try it.
She arrives at the UFA studios on an auspicious day. Joseph Goebbels is taking over as head of the studio. Clara’s English rose elegance catches the eyes of Goebbels, his wife Magda and his aide, Sturmhauptführer Klaus Müller. She is soon invited to be a model for Hitler’s new fashion institute that Magda will be leading.
Leo Quinn of British Intelligence recruits Clara to observe the inner circle of the Third Reich’s highest couples.
Magda — and other ranking Nazi wives — finds herself pinched in contradictions. While the Führer preaches naturalness and simplicity for women — no cosmetics or jewelry — and German-made fashions, Magda and other wives are expected to be dazzling and beautiful. While the Führer preaches marriage and motherhood, his top managers are known for strings of mistresses.
Interestingly, Magda herself was raised by a Jewish stepfather.
While modeling dowdy German fashions and listening to gossip sounds easy, Clara finds herself in growing danger. She suspects Goebbels doesn’t trust her. His notorious wandering eye lingers too long on Clara’s attractive face and figure. Mueller, whose first wife died, wants to marry again and have a family. He’s pressuring Clara for a sexual relationship.
This book has a solid foundation of historical research, especially from the perspective of ordinary women’s lives in the Third Reich. Clara is an interesting character in that her British family supports friendship with Hitler to avoid another world war. On the other side, her mother’s family in Hamburg is Jewish.
But this book moves at the speed of a tea party. Contradictions are glossed over. Clara’s Jewish family is mentioned once and then never again. She’s given only the barest of training as a spy. The reader is given little insight into the stresses of her a double life.
This book paints a picture of Germany on the edge of profound change. For anyone who loves historical novels, this is worth a read.
BLACK ROSES was followed by:
- WOMAN IN THE SHADOWS, set in Berlin in 1937.
- THE SCENT OF SECRETS, set in Paris and Germany in 1938. Clara is asked by British Intelligence to get close to Eva Braun, Hitler’s companion, who is usually hidden from public view at Berghof, Hitler’s vacation home in the Bavarian Alps.
- THE PURSUIT OF PEARLS, set in Berlin in the spring of 1939.
- SOLITAIRE, set in 1942.
Each features an element of women’s life in Nazi Germany such as Reich Bride Schools for training women in Nazi ideology and education in housekeeping skills to become Nazi wives or the prestigious Faith and Beauty Society, which offered courses in fashion design, healthy living and home economics.
The Author: Jane Thynne (C. J. Carey) (1961 – )
Born in Venezuela, Jane and her family traveled around the world before settling in London.
She worked at the Old Vic theatre before reading English at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, then joined the BBC. After several years of producing and directing television programs, she moved to The Sunday Times and later The Daily Telegraph.
She was married to novels Philip Kerr until his death in 2018. They had three children.
She continues to work as a freelance journalist and has a broadcaster on Radio 4 and Sky.
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