Summer 1940. As war tightens its grip on Berlin, Anglo-German actress Clara Vine has severed her ties with the British intelligence service and is trying to keep her head down and survive for the sake of her godson Erich. But Joseph Goebbels has other plans for her, as he “asks” her to go to Occupied Paris to report on a suspected spy. Orphan Katerina Klimpel is also trying to survive in a Nazi-run children’s home, while worrying about the unexplained disappearance of her half-sister. But a greater danger threatens her because, although she is blonde and blue-eyed, she is hampered by a lame leg in a society in which any disability is regarded as “undesirable”. One false step and Clara and Katerina are equally in danger…
What I loved about this atmospheric thriller is that it deals with some of the forgotten aspects of the Nazi regime, like the treatment of orphans and children snatched from their parents in occupied territories because they matched the Aryan ideal. I also liked seeing the female perspective on the workings of Hitler’s closest allies, through Clara’s friendships with their wives and girlfriends. Thynne is superb at depicting the sense of claustrophobia and paranoia engendered by living under a totalitarian regime, and the terrible dilemma adults faced when confronted with the dangerous naivety of teenagers who have been brought up on a diet of Nazi propaganda. But the book is also laced with dark humour.
Although this is the fifth novel in the Clara Vine series, I had no difficulty in picking up the back story—though I would advise others to read the books in sequence because, inevitably, this novel reveals the outcome of some earlier plotlines. I’m certainly planning on reading the previous books—and the next one(s).