Clara Vine is a half English, half German film actress, making films in Germany during the rise of Hitler, under the scrutiny and suspicion of Goebbels, who thinks she is spying for England. Which she is. And her latest assignment given to her by undercover agent Guy Hamilton is to befriend and extract secrets from Eva Braun, Hitler’s girlfriend, that they hope will open up intelligence on his state of mind. But things move faster than anyone was anticipating, and Clara finds herself in the middle of more and more dangerous situations.
I was drawn into this novel to the start, and read it very quickly. We see not only Clara’s perspective but that of a few other characters, whose stories end up weaving into this too. The setting is tense, and Clara is a pleasing and easy to like character. The plot ends up pleasing, but is rather strange in how it comes about.
A mystery of Clara is why she does it. I couldn’t quite make out her motivations at any point: only that she was happy to do whatever the various secret agents asked of her. I was disappointed that she didn’t come up with many of her own ideas or originality but mainly did what men told her to do. She wasn’t unaware of danger, but didn’t seem particularly nervous either. She didn’t seem hugely patriotic nor anti-Nazi (though she was both) but merely to get on with what she was up to.
The plot moved faster than I thought it would, moving her quickly from one dangerous scene to the next, as she displays her formidable spy skills, in gripping and engaging encounters with friends and enemies alike.
I was sad not to see more character development in her: she largely seemed to stay the same throughout the book. I think her love life and attitude towards duty, love etc was meant to be the thing she came to realisations about but I’m not really convinced that she did. She spent much of the novel pining for an abandoned love who we couldn’t really feel particularly strongly about because we never got to know him at all, and fancying a mysterious handsome German who we’re unsure whether we can trust. I found that I wasn’t really drawn in by her love life but wanted to know more about her spying.
The other characters, a British journalist and a German secretary who secretly doesn’t want to have children, are also compelling and unique, adding other flavours and perspectives to the story. Their connections to the story took a while to play out, and I enjoyed speculating on their importance.
The setting was really fun. Perhaps it helped that I’ve recently read Anne Blankman’s Prisoner of Night and Fog, which is set in the same period, but this opened up a different world again: it is amazing to think of films, beauty salons and fashion houses going on at the same time and fun to explore what that might have been like. The glimpse into propaganda and the driving force of messages etc was fun too. Also to meet Eva Braun in another fictional form was fun: I could imagine that she had grown up in Prisoner of Night and Fog and then entered into this novel.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel due to it’s setting and plot, but was disappointed not to see more independence or character development in the main character.