*I received a copy via the publisher in return for an honest review*
Solitaire by Jane Thynne
June 1940: the first summer of the war. Berlin is being bombed and nightly blackouts suffocate the city. Then France falls and a shadow descends.
A shadow has fallen over Clara Vine’s own life, too. She is an Anglo-German woman in a country that hates England. Then she is summoned to meet the Propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, who has decided that Clara should adopt a new role – as his spy.
Much as she dislikes the idea, Clara realises this might be the chance to find an escape route to England. But Goebbels has other ideas and soon Clara is drawn into a web that threatens to destroy her. As everything she holds dear is taken as ransom, she must fight to protect her family – and to survive…
June 1940, the first summer of war!
Clara Vine finds herself caught up in with more treachery, lies and spies……..
The prologue opens in July 1940 in Lisbon, Portugal. The author has done a fantastic job of setting the scene. Refugees are fleeing the Germans, and we become aware one lone woman is watching in the shadows. She is quickly cornered by the police and ushered into a waiting police car, disappearing into the dead of the night!
Meanwhile in Berlin, Clara is navigating her way around a darkened city. Darkened in more ways than one. Clara secretly listens to the British broadcasts of the BBC, whilst conspiring neighbour Dr Franz Engel blasts classical German music to conceal her activity. Clara is no longer spying for the British, but as we have come to know throughout the series. She is far from a Nazi collaborator.
The author brings, not just Berlin alive, but the surrounding historical figures of the senior SS and their wives. Clara rubs shoulders with the SS elite and is often, a listening ear for their complaining wives. Emmy Goering, Magda Goebbels and Annelise Von Ribbentrop are all brought alive on the page.
It is rare in world war two fiction, to see the Nazi SS wives play such central characters. Something much lost out on, in the genre, although not with Jane Thynne at the helm. The wives were more than complicit, in the war time activities of the Nazi party.
The rivalry and hierarchy, between them is intriguing to read.
But one-man terrifies Clara, a man that always keeps a close eye on her and that man, is none other than Joey Goebbels.
Clara’s close friend and confidant is American journalist Mary Hacker. Mary warns Clara of the dangers of her secrets being discovered. She informs her fully of the brutality of the Nazi regime. Mary is currently investigating the ‘resettlement’ of the Jewish Germans; what she uncovers is alarming. Yet it is merely the tip of the iceberg. After all, this is 1940.
“Say what you like about Mahatma propogandi, he’s clever” – Mary Hacker
The novel then introduces another female character orphan Katerina Klimpel. She is living in an orphanage ran by the Nazi party and their wives. Her only hope of escape is to locate her sister Sonja. A sister that disappeared two months ago.
Katerina’s childhood and experiences are fully explored. As the reader we become aware, of why she resides at the home. Why it is such a dangerous place to be, for a young woman, with a hidden disability.
But what connects Clara, Katerina and Sonja? How will their stories become interwoven?
That is the magic of the authors penmanship and the beauty of each novel in the series. The author connects Clara not only to the real-life Nazi hierarchy but to the real-life suffering of the ordinary German citizens.
When Clara is instructed with a mission. A command by Goebbels himself, she can not refuse. Refusal would be an immediate sentence to interrogation or worse, death!
She is asked to make a trip to Nazi occupied Paris and identify if Hans Reuber is a spy for British intelligence.
Clara’s personal grief and inner turmoil has changed her attitudes and shaken her beliefs to the core. But what does this mean for Hans Reuber if he is a spy?
“Everyday life is politics now. It’s impossible to say where one ends and the other begins” – Mary Hacker
The individual stories of all the characters are cleverly unravelled and explored. We uncover what motivates each individual and which Nazi SS senior figures, battle for Hitler’s attention. The novel has various themes of betrayal, loyalty, honour and trust. For the reader with limited knowledge of ww2 history, this novel can be an education, within itself. If you take the time to research each character and theme.
For the reader with comprehensive ww2 knowledge, you fully appreciate the authors historical accuracy.
One thing is 100% certain without a shadow of a doubt, Jane Thynne has done her research!
From the S-Bahn attacker, to the Jugmadel group, the ‘Lebensunwertes leben’ philosophy and even the drug use of pervitin. Each meticulous detail has a wealth of historical accuracy. Yet instead of being ‘taught’, the details are intertwined within this incredible novel, in a story format. Clara Vine is not to be missed!
The ending was incredible and left the series, wide open for its next instalment. Of which I long to read!
“A mother was the universe from whose substance one was formed, and the gap she left would never be filled”
Q) Within the opening pages of this novel, I felt a real change in Clara’s attitudes and approaches towards the Nazi regime. Is this done intentionally, to document how one may struggle with their inner turmoil during war time?
A) When Solitaire opens, Clara’s position is more perilous than ever. It’s 1940, war has begun, and Germany is a prison with no option of escape. So yes, she is forced to confront her own position more deeply, and the loss of her lover intensifies the sense that she really is a lone agent.
Q) As detailed in my review, the research and historical accuracy is second to none. How important is this to you as an author? Are there parts of the history, you think readers may believe are embellished, but are factually correct?
(such as the Pervitin usage)
A) It’s pretty obvious how much I adore the research. I enjoy picking out tiny details of a historical period, such as the fact that Germans could get coffee on prescription for insomnia during air raids. Accuracy is crucial! It’s what makes writing such a pleasure and readers are always quick to correct errors. One of the back stories in Solitaire is the fact that Germany faced a shortage of diamonds. Industrial diamonds were essential for any kind of arms manufacture, so when they invaded Holland and France they were desperate to seize them. I like how this fact connects the glamour and frivolity of diamonds with the deadly reality of war.
Q) I love the depth of the characters in the novel and throughout the series. In Solitaire in-particular, I really warmed to Katerina. How do you create the fictional characters? And are they loosely based on real-life individuals from history?
A) I’m very fond of my fictional girls. When I start reading memoirs or non-fiction, I find the voice of a single girl just calls out to me – often one who is quite compliant, and initially sees nothing wrong with the regime. Ultimately her story will be to discover strength and defiance. With each novel, I’ve tried to examine one aspect of female life in the Third Reich. Katerina is an orphan whose leg is crippled – just like Joseph Goebbels himself – but the Nazis had terrible plans for those who were physically imperfect. That is the Katerina’s peril, except that fortunately she discovers Clara Vine.
Q) The novel focuses around Joseph Goebbels mostly, as he is the most suspicious of Clara. Is there anything that you learned in the researching, that shocked or surprised you about him or his wife Magda?
A) Before the war, British VIPs visiting Germany would often find they preferred Goebbels to the other Nazis, not because he was any less repellent, but because he was intelligent, and could make jokes. It does help when writing about him, and of course, I’m especially interested in him because he was the propagandist, and he worked the levers that brainwashed an entire nation. I don’t think he was a psychopath, or mad, but a hater, with a giant chip on his shoulder whom power enabled to enact atrocities. In contrast his private life was a tiresome cliché of womanising and sentimental love affairs. It was Magda’s misfortune that she never properly managed to escape him. The truly shocking thing is that they murdered their six small children. But when you see the footage of the Russian advance on Berlin, and the savagery that was inflicted on German women and children, I suppose they had good reason to suspect real horrors if their own children were captured by the Russians. Even if they escaped with their lives they would have been paraded on screen and badly maltreated.
Q) The pairing of Irene and Walter Schellenberg, is one of almost disbelief. Yet one I look forward to reading more of. They come across on the page as very differing personalities. Were they difficult to write given their apparent unlikely courtship?
A) A great help was that, like many Nazis who survived the war, Walter Schellenberg, Heydrich’s number two, published his memoirs. Fascinating! He had an affair with Chanel and a complicated love life. Irene was his second wife and coming late to the Nazi hierarchy had a lot to learn.
Q) The novel deals with some very dark themes such as ‘Lebensunwertes Leben’ – life unworthy of living. The Nazi euthanasia programme for those deemed physically or mentally handicapped. With hindsight, it is almost unbelievable, how this philosophy was hidden from the German public. But I felt the writing provided the perfect scenario, of how this initiative was concealed and carried out. Is this difficult to write, without involving your own emotions in the story?
A) As the series has approached wartime, it’s been increasingly difficult to avoid the horrors being perpetrated, not only on Jews and foreigners, but on those deemed German citizens who did not fit with the ideas of the regime. The idea of mass extermination actually began with the euthanasia programme as Nazi doctors and psychiatrists explored ways of eliminating the imperfect. What’s interesting is how the public were softened up for this idea, for example with films of the mentally and physically disabled that asked whether they deserved scarce resources. Or maths questions in text books that asked kids to calculate how much a mentally disabled person cost the state and how many airplanes that money would cover.
Q) finally, what is next for Clara Vine? Are we allowed any snippets of what’s to come in her future?
That ending left me, desperate to read the next in the series.
A) The next in the series is set in 1941 and finds Clara making her biggest film to date – the Sinking of the Titanic. At the same time she is approached and asked to track down a British agent who has gone rogue. The shock is that she once knew this man – their paths crossed in Vienna back in 1937, when he was visiting the celebrated Sigmund Freud. Now she must find him again, and if he has really been turned, ensure that his treachery goes no further.
I was born in Venezuela and grew up with my parents and two brothers in London. After school in Hampton, I spent a year working at the Old Vic Theatre before reading English at St Anne’s College, Oxford.
I then joined the BBC as a production trainee, but after a few years succumbed to a hankering for Fleet Street and moved to The Sunday Times. I spent many cheerful years at The Daily Telegraph as media correspondent, but my single most exciting moment in that time was getting a publishing contract for my first novel.
In particular I have a passion for historical fiction and love the research that involves. The first in the Clara Vine series, Black Roses, became a number One Kindle Bestseller. In the UK the series is published by Simon & Schuster. Outside Britain, my novels have been translated into French, German, Greek, Turkish and Italian. In France the series is published by J.C Lattes and in Greece by Kedros. In the US and Canada the series is published by Random House.
As well as writing books I now freelance as a journalist, writing regularly for numerous British magazines and newspapers, and also appear as a broadcaster on Radio 4. I have been a guest reader at the Arvon Foundation and have sat on the broadcasting committee of the Society of Authors. I have three children and live in London.
I also have an active Facebook page where I love to interact with readers. Do please follow me on GOODREADS and add the Clara Vine novels to your ‘Want To Read’ list. Get in touch. It’s great to talk!