When Lotti Franke, a young woman attending the Faith and Beauty school, is found dead in the woods, Clara Vine is curious as to why the Nazi regime is so determined to sweep the murder under the carpet. It seems Lotti wasn’t as innocent as she appeared and was hiding an object the Nazis are very keen to get their hands on.
However, Lotti’s murder is the least of Clara’s worries as she learns a high-ranking Nazi officer is aware of her Jewish heritage and suspects there is more to her story than meets the eye. As Clara pines for news on her lost love, Leo Quinn, she discovers the Germans are forming an alliance with the Russians that will bring Europe to the brink of war sooner than anyone thinks. With danger around every corner, Clara decides to take matters into her own hands with one final desperate act which could prove fatal.
Faith and Beauty is the fourth book in the Clara Vine series which follows the adventures of an Anglo-German actress as she spies for the British in Nazi Germany. Faith and Beauty pretty much follows the template set out by the previous books as we start with the murder of a young woman connected to one of the various new institutes incorporated by the Nazis. In this case, Lotti was attending the Faith and Beauty Society, an elite finishing school for girls, aged 17-21 years, which aimed to prepare them for marriage and motherhood.
The novel begins with the discovery of Lotti’s murder and the narrative of the rest of the book is shared between Clara Vine, and Lotti’s best friend, Hedwig, who is deeply affected by the murder. While Hedwig wants to find out who killed her best friend, most of her story is actually about her relationship with her boyfriend, Jochen, who she hopes to marry one day. However, Hedwig doesn’t know Jochen as well as she thinks and as the story unfolds, she learns Jochen is involved with a group of people who are trying to undermine the Nazi regime and it shocks her deeply.
As far as Lotti’s murder is concerned, there really isn’t much of an investigation and it is virtually forgotten about for much of the novel as Clara become increasingly concerned about her own safety. Clara has more or less been in danger throughout the series and although she has been arrested more than once, I never really get the sense she is in real danger. As usual, Clara finds herself mixing with the Nazi elite who seem to keep inviting her to occasions despite their suspicions, however this time at least Clara gets to be in the same room as Hitler even if they never interact.
Clara becomes involved with a Nazi officer, Conrad Adler, who is far more ambivalent about the Nazi regime than he initially appears and is attracted to her. While Clara begins to respond to the physical side of the attraction at least, she is also afraid of him as he knows about her Jewish heritage. Clara’s connection with Adler is an interesting one as he is both handsome and charming, but there is a frisson of danger as Clara is unsure about his motives. Unfortunately, things fizzle a bit towards the end so I’m hoping this is picked up again in the next book.
The plot itself is pretty weak to the point nothing much happens, although the tension ramps up towards the end but Lotti’s story was really superfluous to Clara’s which has proved to be a similar problem in previous books. Thynne needs to find another way to examine the wider scope of German life, other than always connecting it to Clara, because it tends never to go anywhere.
As usual, it is the ambience that brings this book to life for me as my real interest in this series has always centred around how Berliners coped with life under Hitler. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been interested in war because I can’t get passed the appalling cost of life, however, like most people, I probably had a very black and white view of Nazi Germany. Thynne does a fantastic job of making you realise not all Germans supported the Nazis but were ultimately afraid to speak out. While there were some grand political gestures, it is the everyday stuff that shows how the Germans fought against Hitler’s doctrines in subtle ways that fascinate me more. Simple things like making sure both your hands are full so you can get away with not doing the dreaded salute every time a high-ranking Nazi drives past.
While the four books set in Berlin have been absorbing, it looks like the next instalment will be focused on Occupied Paris so I hope Thynne breaks out of the mould a little more.