Saturday, August 17, 2019

City of Shadows: Ariana Franklin

City of Shadows is set mostly in Berlin, starting in 1922 and then picks up the story again in 1932. I find Germany in the years between World War I and World War II  a depressing place to read about, and this book doesn't gloss over any of the horrors of that time, but I learned a lot and the story was told beautifully.

From the book description on my trade paperback editon:
A cultured city scarred by war. . . . An eastern émigré with scars and secrets of her own. . . . A young woman claiming to be a Russian grand duchess. . . . A brazen killer, as vicious as he is clever. . . . A detective driven by decency and the desire for justice.
. . . A nightmare political movement steadily gaining power. . . .
This is 1922 Berlin.
One of the troubled city's growing number of refugees, Esther Solomonova survives by working as secretary to the charming, unscrupulous cabaret owner "Prince" Nick, and she's being drawn against her will into his scheme to pass a young asylum patient off as Anastasia, the last surviving heir to the murdered czar of all Russia.

Esther Solomonova and Nicholai Potrovskov are both Russian émigrés in Berlin. The difference is Prince Nick is rich and Esther is very poor and a Jew. Thus Esther does not want to give up her secretarial job working for Nick, even if his dealings are illegal and immoral.  Their connection to Anna Anderson, who says she is Anastasia, brings them to the attention of a murderer who has been hunting her for years. Enter Inspector Schmidt when the murderer makes a violent attack on one of Nick's clubs. Esther and Schmidt are immediately attracted to each other but they are from two different worlds, and the Inspector is married.

I liked so many things about this book:

  • The author's writing is very good, convincing. She writes about serious subjects, but with humor.
  • The characters are vividly portrayed and feel real, including secondary characters who recur throughout the story. And we see how each of them is affected as Hitler gains more and more power.
  • Along with an interesting story, we get a picture of what it was like to live in Germany in the years after World War I, with inflation getting worse and worse. Even Inspector Schmidt and his wife cannot afford adequate food.
  • There is an unexpected twist at the end of the book which makes you go back and rethink much of what happened. 
  • I liked the use of real people as characters in the book. None of them have large roles, but it put some of the story in context for me.

Ariana Franklin was the pen name of British writer Diana Norman.  In addition to writing historical novels under her real name, she also wrote the Mistress of the Art of Death series, featuring Adelia Aguilar, a forensic specialist in the twelfth century.


Publisher:   Harper, 2007 (orig. pub. 2006)
Length:       419 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Setting:      Berlin, Germany
Genre:        Historical Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.


Margot Kinberg said...

I have to admit, Tracy, I'm a lot more familiar with her Adelia Aguilar novels, so I was really interested to see what you thought of this one. She did write very well, and I can see how this would draw you in. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I can believe that she conveyed the era well; she had that gift, in my opinion.

TracyK said...

I have read one of the Adelia Aguilar novels, Margot, and I have copies of the rest of the series to read, but I have been reading a lot of books about the years between the wars this year, and this one fit right in.

Cath said...

I've read a couple of her historical novels which I thought were top-notch, terrific writing, also Mistress of the Art of Death. I didn't know she'd written this, set between the wars. Didn't she die a couple of years ago? She was married to the well known (over here anyway) UK TV film critic, Barry Norman. I was so surprised when I read that but am not sure why!

Cath said...

Forgot to add that I've just reviewed Black Roses by Jane Thynne on my blog and that too is set between the wars with real people as characters in the book. To be honest, I'm never quite sure how I feel about that.

TracyK said...

I believe Diana Norman died in 2011, Cath. I have considered sampling some of her other historical novels since this one was so well written. I think most of them are set in times that appeal to me less, but I still should try them.

TracyK said...

Cath, there are also times when books with real people as characters don't work for me, usually when they play a larger role. Then I start questioning what they are doing, whether it is true to life, etc. In this case the real people were not that involved, except for Anna Anderson, who was real but I did not know it when I was reading the book.

Mathew Paust said...

I was unfamiliar with Franklin's work until now, Tracy, and I am intrigued--especially having spent three years in Germany in the Army where I studied the Russian language. Thanks for the introduction!

TracyK said...

Your experience in Germany would give you an even better appreciation of this book, Mathew. I imagine the Russian language is challenging to learn.

Clothes in Books said...

I absolutely loved the Adelia books, and read them all very quickly (originally on a recommendation from our much-missed friend Bernadette). So now I am intrigued, I didn't know about her other writings. I think I will have to read this, even if you make it sound quite dark...

TracyK said...

I find reading about Germany between the two wars generally depressing, Moira. How people were treated badly, how that was accepted by so many, the poverty. And I read two books set at that time and place in August, so it was very much on my mind. But the book was very good and ended on a more upbeat note than I expected.

col2910 said...

Despite your enjoyment, I can probably skip this.

TracyK said...

Col, at the beginning of August I read a book set in 1934 Germany by Philip Kerr, If the Dead Rise Not. Even more depressing than this one but probably something you would like better. Grim, edgy.