It’s a pleasure to welcome you all to my final blog tour of the year. Today I’m closing down the tour for Solitaire by Jane Thynne and I have an interesting guest post as well as my thoughts on the book. But first, here’s what Solitaire is all about.
Author : Jane Thynne
Title : Solitaire
Series : Clara Vine #5
Pages : 451
Publisher : Simon & Schuster UK
Publication date : November 17, 2017
June 1940: Nightly blackouts suffocate Berlin. Then France falls and a shadow descends across Western Europe now under German occupation.
A shadow has fallen over Clara Vine’s own life, too. She is an Anglo-German woman in a country that hates Britain. Virulent anti-British propaganda is everywhere.
Then she is summoned to meet the Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels who has decided that Clara should adopt a new role – as his spy — and that she must go to Paris on a mission.
Much as she dislikes the idea, Clara realises this might be the chance to find an escape route to Britain. But Goebbels has other ideas and soon Clara is drawn into a web that threatens to destroy her. As everything she holds dear is taken as ransom, she must fight to protect her family – and to survive.
Espionage and spies.
I’ve always adored spy stories. In many ways, the spy is the ideal novelistic protagonist. Everything that a spy needs to be – observant, logical, meticulous, thinking three steps ahead – is much the same for the novelist. Spies, like writers, need to see ordinary situations from a different perspective, to carry their secrets close, weave a convincing tale and seek out hidden perils in everyday environments.
And for me, it had to be a female spy. Espionage writing has always been male dominated, from Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands, to John Buchan, Ian Fleming and John Le Carré, but I wanted the woman’s view. I wanted to explore how a woman copes with espionage in the midst of, sometimes at the expense of, close personal relationships with lovers, friends, even children, so I created Clara Vine, an Anglo-German actress who arrives in Nazi Germany in 1933 and comes into contact with the VIPs of the Third Reich. From there she falls, almost by accident, into espionage, and by the time of Solitaire, which is set in 1940, she has been spying for Britain for seven years.
I chose the background of Nazi Germany because I’m fascinated by the way people survive in a regimented totalitarian society where everyone feels watched and normal human relationships are fraught with mistrust. Nazi Germany was the ultimate misogynist dystopia, where women were primarily valued for their breeding potential, and when I discovered the Berlin Bride School, where girls took residential courses in becoming obedient wives, it was like a real life Handmaid’s Tale that I subsequently used in The Winter Garden.
In Solitaire, Germany and Britain are at war, so Clara’s existence is even more perilous. In classic spy story tradition she is approached by Joseph Goebbels, who is of course unaware of her work for British intelligence, and asked to act as a honey-trap. This is another major difference between male and female spies – sex appeal is undeniably a weapon in the toolkit of the female agent and Clara often uses her own attractiveness for higher ends. Her mission takes her to Lisbon, which in July 1940 was neutral, and packed with refugees fleeing from Nazi occupied Europe. It was also swarming with spies of both sides – British and Gestapo – who staked out different hotels and frequented separate bars. At one point both Graham Greene and Ian Fleming were spying in Lisbon, and as luck would have it, it’s Fleming who Clara encounters.
The Clara Vine novels do not fit neatly in the espionage genre – they’re historical and romantic and thrillers too. Yet I love spy writing because all the elements of life that most novels address – love, loyalty, betrayal, hope, sacrifice – are compressed in the universe of the spy. We all, to some extent, live double lives and present different faces to the different people in our worlds, but spies live a constant double life. They are always on stage, always acting a role, and there is always a marked gap between what they think and what they say. It’s this gap that interests me.
Solitaire is the fifth book in the Clara Vine series. Not having read any of the previous ones, I was slightly worried I wouldn’t be able to follow but I feel the author has done a great job filling in the background for those who are new to the series and I didn’t feel lost at all. I did however have a hard time connecting to Clara and didn’t particularly like her very much, which made me wonder if that would have been different if I’d gotten to know her better beforehand.
For those unfamiliar with the series, set in the World War II era, Clara Vine is an English/German actress who’s been living in Berlin for the past seven years. Due to her background and heritage, she never feels quite safe despite having German citizenship. Not only does Germany not look kindly upon the British but Clara is also desperately trying to hide her Jewish heritage. Especially as she often finds herself moving around in the circles of the higher Nazi party members and their wives, which gives an incredible insight into their lives.
I must admit it took me a while to get into this story. It was a bit of a slow-burner and needed a bit more oomph to really grab me. I did however thoroughly enjoy Katerina’s chapters and found them highly addictive. Katerina is a young girl who finds herself in a children’s home when her father dies, where she’s being raised by Brown Sisters. A lot of it is more brainwashing than anything else and some of it beggars belief. Katerina suffers from a leg problem and her life may be in danger and I quickly found myself rooting for her.
This story is certainly incredibly atmospheric and I immediately felt myself transported to the streets of Berlin, Paris and Lisbon. It’s clear the author has done a lot of research and I learned quite a lot about how the war affected the German population, for instance. As someone who regularly reads stories about the second World War, a lot of it is set in England so it was fascinating to see the other side for a change which isn’t something that’s often talked about but it should be noted that the average German suffered too.
Despite never warming to Clara, I enjoyed this historical setting and the various characters that make an appearance, like Ian Fleming and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. There’s also a subtle threatening level throughout the story and I have nothing but admiration for those who put their lives on the line during the war to make sure the right side won. Jane Thynne effortlessly manages to combine fact with fiction and a healthy dose of intrigue with some romance. The ending seems to imply there’s much more to come for fans of Clara Vine so keep an eye out for that!
My thanks to Jane Thynne and Sian Devine for the invitation to join the tour and my ebook copy of the book!
Solitaire is available for purchase now!