This review originally appeared in Critics at Large and is reproduced on this site because I wrote seven chapters on Nazi Germany in That Line of Darkness (Encompass Editions 2013)
|Author Jane Thynne.|
This review contains some spoilers for Jane Thynne's A Winter Garden and The Scent of Secrets.
Over a month ago at the Berlin airport, I picked up a copy of the novel, A Winter Garden (Simon & Schuster, 2014) by Jane Thynne, an author with whom I was not familiar. I was most interested in finding out whether she had anything new to say about the deeply-lined runes of the Third Reich. Apart from a few academic studies that Thynne acknowledges, I do not recall any novelist that explores as she does the intensity of Nazi misogyny and contempt for women. When I finished it, I ordered the next book in the series, The Scent of Secrets (Doubleday Canada, 2015). In the UK, the same novel is published with the title, A War of Flowers. Unfortunately, the cover of The Scent of Secrets is almost identical to that of A Winter Garden. On the plus side, either Thynne or her publishers made the astute decision to hook the reader by publishing the prelude and chapter of the subsequent entry in the last few pages of the book. She succeeded with me.
A reader might think that Thynne, a former print and television journalist and the wife of author, Philip Kerr, who has written several well-received novels on the Third Reich, might overlap with her husband. But in terms of subject matter and style, they are completely different. Whereas Kerr’s protagonist, Bernie Gunther, is a wise-cracking police officer and later a private detective with a cynical view of the world who has seen the worst of humanity, Thynne’s central character, Clara Vine, whose mother was German and father is English, has been recruited in 1933 by British Intelligence to become a spy while she establishes herself as an actress in Berlin’s Ufa studios as her cover, a process that apparently occurs in the first Clara Vine novel, Black Roses (Simon & Schuster, 2013). Her novels offer a woman’s perspective of the regime as Clara’s task is to gain admittance to the circles of the Nazi wives, and, in The Scent of Secrets, a greater challenge: to win the friendship of the woman closest to Hitler, Eva Braun. But there is a paradox that the series can probably never fully resolve: how can a single, independent and half-English woman have access to and influence in the corridors of power in such a misogynous regime?