RogerBW's Blog

Black Roses, Jane Thynne 27 March 2018

2013 historical drama, first in a five-book series. Berlin, 1933: Clara Vine, unsuccessful actress, has gone to Berlin to try her luck in film, just as Hitler has come to power. She finds herself falling upwards into the company of Magda Goebbels, and is recruited as an intelligence source.

This is another book that makes its historical research prominent, with lots of detail about the opening months of 1933 in Berlin. And as far as I can tell it's mostly accurate, though a reference to Currywurst (a post-war invention, which got its genesis from curry powder supplied by the BAOR) leaves me suspicious about the rest. Thynne does sometimes go on a bit, though, and some of the descriptions start to feel like padding.

All the Nazis, and all the others who agree with them even slightly, are Bad People, and this gets rather heavy-handed. It's not that I want to read about how wonderful they were, but I could have used a bit of nuance; where's the person who joined the Party out of genuine conviction, or because he wanted to get ahead in the face of a sclerotic system of promotion by family connections, and now finds himself part of blatant thuggery? The emphasis is, deliberately, mostly on the women's stories, and they do get a bit of variation in character; Thynne sometimes manages to make Magda Goebbels almost sympathetic (her initial idea for the book was apparently "what's it like to be married to a monster"), though she occasionally drops into bathos.

But Clara felt sure that gardening was not uppermost on Magda Goebbels' mind.

All the historical infodumping does get a bit Lifestyles of the Rich and Nazi, as we are dragged along to yet another ghastly meeting of horrible people, with Clara largely a passive observer. Several chapters deal not with Clara or her handler, but with other characters who are in a better position to talk about what's happening in Germany but who aren't really a part of the actual story; and the fictional characters are mostly two-dimensional, with little about them that can't be summed up in a few words ("brutal Nazi who likes to appear cultured", "girl reporter who wants to do the big stories"). There might be interesting things to say about the Deutsches Modeamt, Hitler's attempt to have a proper German fashion movement just as he was encouraging the creation of proper German music, film and so on, and which was as much as a failure as one would expect from any creative organisation where ideology came first… but this book doesn't say them. The sex-and-shopping story tries to turn into a spy thriller of the tawdry, dirty sort, but its heart isn't really in it. Most of the plot elements are left unresolved for future books.

It's… OK, I suppose. But it never quite caught fire for me, and I don't plan to read more in the series. Followed by The Winter Garden (UK) / Woman In The Shadows (US).

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