Ada Freitag is taking a holiday on the MS Wilhelm Gustloff, a new cruise liner commissioned to encourage Germans to go on Nazi approved holidays and there is definitely no room for bad publicity. The problem is the disappearance has been noted by Clara’s godson, Erich, who had a crush on the beautiful Ada and he is not willing to let it go. Erich persuades Clara to use her connections to investigate but Clara is a little preoccupied with other matters.
While in Paris filming her latest movie, Clara is approached by British Intelligence to get close to Hitler’s girlfriend, Eva Braun, in order to pass on information. However, Clara knows the task will place her in a lot of danger as the high ranking Nazi officials are still suspicious of her activities. Clara has little choice though and agrees to go on the audition in Munich that will put her in Eva’s path, but when Clara meets the young woman, it is obvious Eva knows nothing useful. Eva is quite a fascinating character and although she initially comes across as a naive young woman, there are definite signs of mental fragility.
Clara’s association with Eva doesn’t go far since Eva is pretty much under surveillance the whole time but Eva’s precariousness puts Clara in grave danger. Clara finds herself drawn back into the inner circle of the high ranking Nazi wives who all hate Eva with a passion and unexpectedly finds herself a guest at Berghof, Hitler’s home, although he is not resident at the time. Clara seems to have a knack for constantly avoiding Hitler which is a pity since I’d like to see how she deals with him and whether he would be able to see through her facade or not. Clara does meet Himmler though and has a very worrying conversation about racial purity and motherhood, but the whole episode seems very contrived.
Clara also finds herself attracted to an older German officer, Max Brandt, who she first meets in Paris but she is determined not to get romantically involved with him, although he seems to keep appearing out of nowhere. Clara’s chemistry with Max is much more believable than any of the other lovers she has had but the passion is still very much lacking so it goes nowhere. Of course, there’s more to Max than meets the eye and Clara finds herself deeply involved in a plot to end Hitler’s life.
There is a lot happening in A War of the Flowers but the mystery surrounding Ada’s death gets completely lost amongst it all, making it seem superfluous. The investigation is mostly run by Clara’s journalist friend, Rupert, but it is far too similar to the murder plot in The Winter Garden and I lost interest in it early on. For me, the real highlight in these books is how Thynne portrays the everyday lives of the Germans who are living through this period, particularly the women, and how Hitler’s policies affect them. Not everyone is enamoured with Herr Hitler but it is safer to keep a low profile and do as you are told.
The Winter Garden focused on the topic of marriage and the special schools established to ensure young German women became domestic goddesses, so it is inevitable the main focus in A War of Flowers would be on motherhood. While Hitler is busy dismantling female rights, women are being encouraged to have multiple children and are forced to attend classes on how to raise them for the Reich. As always there are dark undercurrents as teachers are encouraged to weed out children who are ‘not quite right’ as there is no place for ‘mistakes’ in the new Germany.
I’m hoping there are no extraneous murder plots in the fourth book as they are definitely not needed to keep the plot interesting, there is enough going on with the approaching war and the growing state of fear in Berlin. I’m also getting a little tired of the endless paragraphs dealing with Clara’s walks and the oft repeated passages on what processes she goes through in an attempt to discover whether she is being tailed or not. Thynne makes some great observations on German society and I’m certainly learning a lot about what women had to endure in particular so she should stick to what she does best. I would also like to see Clara becoming more active in her spying though as she still seems a little too passive to me, and gets spoon fed the information she needs rather too much.
I assumed A War of Flowers was going to be the final instalment of the Clara Vine series since the author had previously referred to the books as being part of a trilogy, however it seems she’s changed her mind and Clara’s adventures will continue.
Please note this book has been published as The Scent of Secrets in the US.