Clara Vine, actress daughter of politician Sir Ronald Vine, escapes from a boyfriend who assumes she’ll tolerate a loveless marriage to him, by going to Berlin to audition for a part for a film. Clara’s fluent in German because her late mother was German so both languages were spoken at home. In Berlin, Clara soon makes friends with other actresses and finds herself introduced to Dr Goebbels’ wife, Magda. Dr Goebbels is about to reform the German film industry and Magda has been charged with reviving an interest in German fashions. Magda thinks Clara would make an ideal fashion model. The fact that Clara’s obviously caught the eye of Dr Goebbels’ assistant, widower Klaus Müller, is a recommendation in Magda’s eyes.
Meanwhile the journalist, Rupert Allingham, who gave Clara the contact for the film role, returns to Berlin. He’s dating an American journalist and introduces Clara to Leo Quinn who works for the British embassy. Leo’s been asked by superiors to gain intelligence on upper echelons of the Nazi Party and asks Clara not to spy exactly but report back on what she hears. Clara doesn’t see how chat about fashion and Küche, Kirche and Kinder (kitchen, church and children; referring to Nazi policies which tried to restrict women’s roles with the aim of increasing the German population) could possibly be of use. But Leo argues she can give an insight into how the Nazi’s innermost clique are thinking.
Clara agrees. She gets drawn further into Magda Goebbels’ social circles, eventually becoming trusted enough to pass on a secret message to one of Magda’s ex-lovers. Clara also discovers secrets about her own family. Can she retain loyalty to her own family while hiding her mother’s Jewish ancestry and continuing to pretend sympathy towards her father’s right wing politics? Will she give her heart to the German widower who could protect her whilst also opening doors to the Nazi’s innermost clique or the Englishman who requested she become a spy? When Magda confides in her, but Clara is taken in for a “conversation” with Goebbels, where will her loyalties lie?
“Black Roses” in sumptuous in period detail without becoming so overwhelmed by re-creating Berlin in 1933 that the plot gets held up. Clara is engaging, credible and resourceful, drawing on her own acting talents and thinking things through rather than relying on her handlers. Jane Thynne shows how small acts of heroism made a big, if temporary, difference and captures the pressures and motivations of the time. “Black Roses” is a compelling read, of interest to readers of historical fiction and those who like spy thrillers.
By Emma Lee