In the summer of 1940, Clara, still grieving for the loss of the man she hoped to marry, has stopped spying for the British but there is no escape from the upper echelons of the Reich and Clara soon finds herself on a mission to Paris for Goebbels.
Ordered to report back on the loyalty of a high-ranking officer, Clara is nevertheless glad to escape the oppressive atmosphere in Berlin for a few days in a Paris which seems relatively unchanged by the Occupation. However, Clara soon discovers an undercurrent of resistance beneath the glamour of the city and learns why a network has been established to keep diamonds out of the hands of the Nazis.
Clara is blackmailed into continuing to work for Goebbels after the welfare of her godson, Erich, is threatened and she is soon summoned to Lisbon to meet with Walter Schellenberg, a man even more dangerous than Goebbels, and she uncovers a plot to kidnap the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. A desperate Clara gets some unexpected help in the form of spymaster Ian Fleming who tells Clara that Winston Churchill wants to meet her with the aim of recruiting her for his new spy service.
Back in Berlin, Clara’s adventures are interwoven with the story of a young orphan called Katerina who is desperately searching for her missing older sister. Katerina has been placed in an orphanage which reforms children taken from invaded countries with the intent of “Aryanising” them enough to be adopted into German families, however children with defects who fail the rigorous medical tests are quietly euthanised. Left with a twisted leg after having suffered from polio, Katerina is deemed unsuitable for adoption and she begs Clara to help her find her sister.
Solitaire is the fifth book in the Clara Vine series which follows the adventures of an Anglo-German actress as she spies for the British in Nazi Germany. This book is much slower than its predecessors which is a great pity as I thought the arrival of war would boost the tension somewhat, however the war may as well not exist. Life seems to be continuing as normal in Berlin despite more shortages and although there is talk of severe bombing, all we get is a brief sojourn in a bomb shelter for Clara towards the end of the book. Clara moves freely around Paris and Lisbon with neither city seeming to have suffered any deprivation, and Clara indulges herself in a shopping spree at the expense of the Reich.
As Clara completes her mission in Paris, there are hints of a growing resistance and Clara is taken to Cartier where she meets Jeanne Toussaint, the director and jewellery designer, who tells her why diamonds are so sought after by the Nazis. I actually found this part of the story fascinating as I had no idea diamonds were so important in war technology and Clara will soon find herself embroiled in the smuggling network in an unexpected way. Thynne is very good at constructing her books around some of the lesser known details of the war and it is far more interesting to me to learn about the daily lives of the people who lived through it rather than where the biggest battles were won.
Unfortunately, Clara Vine continues to be an insipid character and I so wish Thynne had chosen to focus on the feisty Mary Harker, however I suppose an American journalist would not be able to insert herself as deeply within the Nazi hierarchy as Clara. We know Clara is grieving for Leo Quinn because we are told so and a neighbour mentions hearing Clara cry at night, but why aren’t we shown this rather than being told? Instead, we get a Clara who is so tightly controlled, she appears emotionless much of the time, even when she is alone in her apartment. A little more emotion would go a long way into making Clara likeable rather than a walking automaton. There’s a hint of a possible new romance for Clara too, let’s hope she shows a bit more passion this time around.
As usual with these novels, we are introduced to organisations instigated by the Nazis to achieve their Aryan ideals and Thynne explores those affecting women and children in particular. In Solitaire, we learn about how foreign children were taken to orphanages where they were given German names and encouraged to forget about their real parents. The successful children were adopted out to German families, while the misfits were euthanised or taken away to camps. As if that wasn’t horrific enough, the older girls were encouraged to believe their greatest purpose in life would be to produce babies for the Reich. Again, these are the fascinating details that keep me reading these books more than anything.
By the end of the book, Clara is being recruited by Winston Churchill who wants her to train for his new spy service at Knebworth so it will be interesting to see how Clara manages to get in and out of Germany to complete her training.