Woman in the Shadows
Clara Vine, Book #2
By Jane Thynne
Author Website: Janethynne.com
Berlin, 1937. The city radiates glamour and ambition. But danger lurks in every shadow….
Anna Hansen, a bride-to-be, is a pupil at one of Hitler’s notorious Nazi Bride Schools, where young women are schooled on the art of being an SS officer’s wife. Then, one night, she is brutally murdered and left in the gardens of the school. Her death will be hushed up and her life forgotten.
Clara Vine is an actress at Berlin’s famous Ufa studios by day and an undercover British Intelligence agent by night. She knew Anna and is disturbed by news of her death. She cannot understand why someone would want to cover it up, but she soon discovers that Anna’s murder is linked to a far more ominous secret.
With the newly abdicated Edward VIII and his wife Wallis set to arrive in Berlin, and the Mitford sisters dazzling on the social scene, Clara must work in the darkness to find the truth and send it back to London. It is a dangerous path she treads, and it will take everything she has to survive…. (janethynne.com)
Woman in the Shadows starts off with a bang with Nazi Bride School pupil Anna murdered in the school’s gardens. Her death is covered up, but Clara, a half British half German actress, realizes that she knows the former chorus dancer and wonders what all the hush up is about. She turns to her American journalist friend to find out what she can. Meanwhile, Clara uses her position at the German film studio to rub shoulders with the elite who are close to Hitler and gather information for the British government. Hitler is touting peace, but it seems pretty clear to Clara that war is coming. She is tasked with gaining information about the blossoming aeronautics program, but she must be on her guard because rumor has it that the Gestapo has her in their sites. She finds it more difficult with each passing day to hide her true feelings about Hitler’s Germany, especially with her “godson” spouting the indoctrination of the Hitler Youth. As she puts together the pieces of Anna’s death, she faces more and more danger.
This is the first book by Jane Thynne that I have read, and I was looking forward to an exciting World War II spy thriller. However, for the most part I found the story to be anything but thrilling. It plods along at a glacial pace, making it far too easy to put down. There are elements here that could make it truly great, but it gets bogged down in the details, details often make for rather clunky writing. Thynne’s meticulous research is obvious, but instead of bringing Clara’s world to life, I felt like I was reading a very dry history lecture. I love historical fiction and mysteries and fully realize that not everything moves at a lightening twenty-first century pace, but the book’s uneven tempo is a missed opportunity. Woman in the Shadows could have been a gripping, taut nail-biter.
Where Thynne does excel is in portraying the stark contrast between the general population and Jews of Germany and the decadence of Hitler’s privileged circle of confidants. She does a good job of interweaving real historical figures with the fictional characters. There are times where she creates atmosphere, such as a foot chase on the dark streets of Berlin or the buzz of a cocktail party, and I feel transported to 1937. Part of what I enjoy about historical fiction is feeling like I learned something by the end of the book, and I did indeed pick up tidbits. The subplot involving the Spanish Civil War and the aeronautics information are particularly noteworthy.
As expected, Clara’s character is quite complex. Really, all of the characters, with the exception of Anna’s roommate Ilse, are multifaceted. The most exciting aspect of the book was trying to see beyond the surface of the characters. Isn’t that what we all love about spy novels, the cat and mouse game and feeling that nothing is really as it seems? Characters Ralph and Arno are worth mentioning. Their inner and out scars and background stories, along with their interactions with Clara, were the best parts of the book.
Woman in the Shadows was just an OK read for me. Perhaps I had too high of expectations. The shining moments really do shine, but these moments are often hard to see, hidden in the clunky details. I will give the Clara Vine series another chance though. I recommend this book to those who are more interested in World War II history than adventure and do not mind the slow pace of the novel. If you are after a heart racing spy thriller, look elsewhere.