I was asked if I would like a copy of this book to review. Set in pre-war Berlin with spies and glamour abounding I said oh yes please and was then asked had I read the first one? Er, no I hadn't and so lovely Simon and Schuster send me both, Black Roses and the Winter Garden. Being contrary or, more likely, being seduced by the glam cover of the hardback I read them the wrong way round. Daft I know but makes life interesting.
The first book is Black Roses and features a young British actress Clara Vine, who, not doing too well in England, decides to upsticks and off to Berlin where there are opportunities for bi-lingual speakers. Realising that if she does not make a move she will be condemned to a boring, restricted life and possibly an equally boring restricted marriage, Clara goes to Germany and finds herself, all unwittingly, in an uneasy circle of Nazi wives, among them Magda Goebbels.
She meets Leo Quinn, an undercover British intelligence agent who recruits her to spy on her new cirlce of friends and feed him information. Clara soon realises that though her father, a pro Nazi English politician, means that she is accepted and trusted by the German hierarchy, she is living dangerously and when a friend of hers falls out of the window of her block of flats, a seeming suicide, she wonders if she can continue with this double life.
"There stood Goebbels. There stood the man who had ordered Helga's death as a warning to her and whose shadows kept a constant watch on her.....right then she had got the better of him, but she knew she could not let her guard down for a second".
The Winter Garden continues with the adventures of Clara. It is now 1937 and the book opens with the murder of Anna Hansen, a bride to be who is a pupil at one of Hitler's Nazi Bride Schools. I found the opening chapters showing how good German women, pure of race and especially chosen, were taught how to be the perfect wife, jaw dropping. It seems that the certificate gained at these establishments had to be submitted to the SS Race and Settlement Office before your marriage could go ahead. It all sounds like a horrendous version of my convent school which I attended (and which I left precipitously half way through my sixth form year as I simply could not take it a minute longer) only much much worse:
"Today they had been focusing on Cooking without Butter because of the shortage and very dull it had been....after lunch came Culture, consisting of a talk on fairy tales. All brides needed to learn fairy tales because the German mother was the 'culture bearer' to the next generation. Today's lecturer had explained how in Cinderella it was the prince's Germanic instincts that led him to reject the stepsisters' alien blood and search for a maiden who was racially pure"
Incredible though this may sound I gather these schools really did exist. I have to do some further research on these I think as it all sounds fascinating, ghastly but still fascinating.
However, all is not well at the school and one night when Anna slips out into the garden for a crafty cigarette she is attacked and murdered. All is hushed up and glossed over and there it probably would end if not for our doughty heroine, Clara Vine, who knew Anna and cannot understand why her murder has been ignored. Of course, it soon transpires that it is linked to a secret that Anna was concealing and the Fuhrer was involved and it all starts to get rather murky.
Both these books are excellent page turning reads and, though they are fiction, real life people are in the centre of the action including the Mitford sisters amongst others. The internecine rivalry between the acolytes surrounding Hitler and the jealousies amongst the Nazi wives all struggling to achieve eminence over their rivals makes for intriguing reading. Throw in the visit from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in the middle of all this, the beautiful and glamorous Clara and her new lover and you have a book which will keep you pinned to your sofa or in your chair for a long time.
Loved them both and already looking forward to the third.