You may recall that I’m a big fan of historical fiction but that I’d been having a hard time finding something to really get me excited. The Storms of War and The King’s Curse had been rare bright spots in my historical fiction quest.
But you know what? I feel like maybe the tide is turning and I’m going to have more good luck than bad going forward.
I just finished reading The Scent of Secrets by Jane Thynne, the first book in a promised trilogy, and it was fantastic.
Clara Vine is a half English, half German (with a Jewish grandmother) actress living in Berlin in 1938. She is popular enough to have her likeness on trading cards cigarette companies are pumping out to promote German culture. And she’s a spy.
A former lover had trained her to be a spy and she’s just waiting to find out when she will be needed. When her assignment comes through it’s a big one: befriend Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun. Her work takes her to Paris, Berlin and Munich, crossing paths with Chanel, Himmler and Dr. Goebbels.
I’ve read a LOT about Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. I’ve read a biography of Eva Braun, of Hitler, Coco Chanel, a book about the Ritz during the War, I read about the women who did Hitler’s dirty work and what it was like to live in Germany at the time, about what it was like working to try and stop it and so, so much on the Final Solution to the Jewish “Problem.” Considering how much non-fiction I’ve read about this era, this book could have been a re-hashing on a fictional level, leaving me bored.
But it didn’t. Not even a little bit. Thynne must have been reading the same material as I have (and then some) because her book was littered with all kinds of details that I want to know more about. For example, the wives of the Nazi elite Emmy Goering, Magda Goebbels and Lina Heydrich were just as dangerous and powerful as their husbands and I want to read a whole book about them! Thynne also introduced me to Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, the fuhrerin, who was essentially the female Hitler, charged with making sure that all German women were doing their part for the new German Reich – namely marrying Aryan men and having at least six children. Scholtz-Klink sounds like a terrifying woman, she really existed and I would like to read more about her.
I liked this book a lot, I liked Clara and the way she was insinuated into historical fact. I loved that Eva Braun was getting a bit more time on the stage, so to speak – I’ve always felt sorry for her. But what really made this Nazi spy story so great was the amount of detail Thynne has woven into the story. It doesn’t hurt either that she uses a female spy. She really creates a sense of time and place, of the fear that was so prevalent, of how all-encompassing the Nazi way of life really was. Take for example, this passage about German toys:
“Rosa had that morning been sent out to buy puzzle games with pieces of wood that spelled out the name Adolf Hitler, a spelling book – A is for Adolf, B is for Bormann, et cetera – and a mobile with the face of Hitler to hang above a baby’s cot. There were card games too, like the one where players competed to collect the top Nazi leaders, with Hitler, of course, worth the maximum number of points. All these toys would be demonstrated to the women’s leaders in their sessions on childhood indoctrination…”
A Hitler mobile for a crib? The stuff of f*%#ing nightmares.
The Scent of Secrets was a great read and I’m looking out for the next installment!
Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for providing me with an ARC of this book.