In the spring of 1939, the drums of war beat throughout Europe, but nowhere more ferociously than in Berlin. The film studio where Clara Vine works is churning out movies, but each day that she stays in Germany is more dangerous than the last. Spying on the private life of the Third Reich, passing secrets to contacts in British intelligence, falling into a passionate affair—any of these risky moves could get Clara shot. So she is wholly shaken when someone close to her is murdered instead. The victim is Lottie Franke, an aspiring costume designer and student at the prestigious Faith and Beauty finishing school that trains young women to become the wives of the Nazi elite. While the press considers Lottie’s death in the Grunewald forest the act of a lone madman, Clara uncovers deeper threads, tangled lines that seem to reach into the darkest depths of the Reich—and to a precious discovery that Hitler and his ruthless cohorts would kill for.
Previously published in the U.K. as Faith and Beauty
Praise for Jane Thynne’s first Clara Vine novel, The Scent of Secrets
“A brilliant tale of spies and secrets, of intense psychological drama, of edgy climax and one extraordinary heroine.”—Beatriz Williams, New York Times bestselling author of A Hundred Summers
“A compelling story of love and betrayal in Hitler’s Berlin . . . Peppered with real-life characters, this series offers a fascinating glimpse of the extraordinary world of the Nazi wives.”—Daisy Goodwin, author of The American Heiress
“An alluring blend of thrills, suspense, historic detail, and seduction.”—Susan Elia MacNeal, author of the Maggie Hope series
“An extraordinary, absorbing read with an array of characters so real you’re there with them as war looms, and a pace that sweeps you from page to page. This is indeed a winner!”—Charles Todd, author of Inspector Ian Rutledge Mysteries
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Berlin, in April 1939, was partying like there was no tomorrow.
The Führer was fifty and the whole of Germany was in a frenzy. The day itself had been declared a National Holiday and the largest military parade ever held—five hours’ worth of storm troopers, hurricane troopers, tornado troopers, and every other type of trooper—was proceeding along the new East-West Axis, the great triumphal boulevard that ran all the way from Unter den Linden to the Olympic Stadium. Guns and tanks glittered in the morning air as the boots of fifty thousand soldiers thudded rhythmically into the ground. One hundred and sixty-two Heinkel bombers, Messerschmitt fighters, and Stuka dive-bombers performed flybys at five-minute intervals, leaving lightning flashes of vapor in the sky. Deputations of the Hitler Youth and League of German Girls had arrived from all over Germany. There were armored cars, cannons, Howitzers, and antiaircraft guns. And more than a million spectators, most of them carrying black bread sandwiches, bottles of beer, and swastika flags.
Clara Vine shuffled her feet and looked down at her glossy Ferragamo leather pumps. They were hand-stitched in Florence, had cost the earth, and they hurt like hell.
Why on earth had she not worn comfortable shoes?
She was hungry and thirsty and longing to sit down. She had been there since nine that morning, but had only managed to secure a place three deep opposite the Führer’s saluting podium on the Charlottenburger Chaussee. The view to her right was obscured by a large woman with a squashed felt hat, accompanied by two boys of around six and seven. At first Clara had pitied the children, doomed to spend the morning fenced in by a forest of legs, but after hours of their relentless wails, demanding to know when exactly the Führer was coming and how much longer would he be, her sympathy was wearing thin. To her left stood a war veteran, medals pinned proudly to his chest, saluting frenetically like someone with uncontrollable muscle spasms. He had come all the way from Saxony, and he was not the only one. Thousands of visitors had poured into Berlin. The stations were teeming, and every hotel from the Adlon down was booked solid. People who couldn’t afford anywhere else had pitched their tents in the parks.
Like all birthdays, Hitler’s special day had begun with presents, but that was where the ordinariness ended. Vast marble tables had been assembled in the Reich Chancellery to display Meissen porcelain, silver candlesticks, and Titian paintings, alongside rather more modest gifts from ordinary people, largely made up of swastika cakes and cushions. The Pope, the King of England, and Henry Ford had sent telegrams. The engineer Ferdinand Porsche had presented Hitler with a shiny black convertible VW Beetle. Rudolf Hess had acquired a collection of priceless letters written by the Führer’s hero, Frederick the Great, and Albert Speer had given him an entire scale model of “Germania”—the new world capital, with buildings made out of balsa wood and glass and a thirteen-foot model of the proposed triumphal arch. This was, without doubt, Hitler’s favorite present, and he pored over it like a boy with a train set until he could be persuaded to tear himself away.
On the face of it, Berlin was putting on a magnificent show. Gigantic white pillars had sprouted all along major thoroughfares. The newsstands groaned with souvenir birthday issues. Swastikas sprouted from every conceivable surface. Spring was a riot of color in Berlin, so long as the colors were red and black.
Beneath the birthday bunting, however, everything was a little shabbier in Germany’s capital. The tablecloths in the restaurants were spotted because there was no detergent, the bread was sawdust, and the ersatz coffee undrinkable. People looked the other way on the trams because there was no toothpaste, precious few razor blades or shaving foam, and the sour odor of humanity and unwashed clothes hung in the U-Bahn. Even high-class nightclubs like Ciro’s stank of low-grade cigarettes, and taxis home were nonexistent because of the gas shortage.
After the previous year’s Anschluss, when Germany annexed Austria, followed by the bloodless seizure of Czechoslovakia that March, most of Europe guessed a war was on the way. When it happened, it would be Poland’s fault, according to the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, which ensured that newspapers were black with seventy-two-point headlines screaming belligerent revenge on the Poles for their atrocities against Germans in the disputed “Polish corridor.” poland, look out! There had been murderous attacks on Germans in Danzig. God help any country that stood in Germany’s way.
Looking around her, Clara guessed that despite the marching and the machines, no one in this great big birthday pageant really wanted war. The ghost of the last war was still in their eyes, and the thought of what another would do haunted all but the very young. Only the little boys beside her, who now had squeezed between the legs of the storm troopers guarding the route, saw anything thrilling in the inexorable wall of men and tanks rolling past. Everyone else was getting by on an edgy cocktail of hope and denial. Everywhere you went, nerves flashed and shorted, like violet sparks above the tramlines. Tempers frayed. The whole city was as pumped up and jittery as a dog being forced to fight.
Above their heads, loudspeakers strung along the street barked out radio broadcasts of Joseph Goebbels between bursts of military music. Goebbels was cheerleading the nation as though the Führer’s birthday was synonymous with facing up to the Poles. Enthusiasm for both was compulsory.
“No German at home or anywhere else in the world can fail to take the deepest and heartiest pleasure in participation.”
Clara winced. The voice of the short, clubfooted minister for enlightenment and propaganda still got under her skin like shards of glass. Even now, after six years in Germany, hearing it daily on the radio and at the film studios where she worked, Joseph Goebbels’s wheedling tone could make her flinch like chalk screeching on a blackboard.
Clara was there only because of a solemn promise she had made to her godson, Erich Schmidt, who at sixteen had been chosen to lead his battalion of Hitler Youth in the parade. It was a great honor, he had reminded her numerous times. But from where she was standing there seemed little chance of even glimpsing Erich, let alone of him registering her loyal presence.
It didn’t have to be that way. As an actress contracted to the Ufa studios, Clara had qualified for a place in the VIP enclosure, alongside prominent personalities in their finery and portly Party dignitaries trussed up in field gray. The viewing stand, garlanded with golden laurels and tented drapes like a marquee at a country wedding, offered a far better view and a gilt chair to sit on. That was why she had risked the Ferragamo shoes, as well as the skirt suit and the tip-tilted hat, which now looked far too smart amid the stolid burghers of the Berlin crowd. Only, when she reached the gates of the VIP enclosure, she realized she couldn’t face it. She spent enough of her life in close confines with Nazi officials without wanting to join them behind a velvet rope with no chance of escape.
A frisson of excitement ran through the crowd. A posse of steel-helmeted, black-jacketed SS officers had appeared and were elbowing their way through, glancing from left to right. Joseph Goebbels, who was recording this extravaganza for posterity, was clearly controlling every last detail. No one was allowed to take their own photographs, and police were deputed to arrest anyone in the crowd who wielded a camera or failed to perform the Nazi salute. As the SS men barged past, Clara saw an elderly couple at the back of the throng, the man a teacher or a pastor perhaps, and his gray-haired wife beside him, being hustled off to a side street and lined up against a wall to await the police wagon.
Mirror periscopes swiveled like reeds in the wind, and the yells around her intensified, rising into a wall of sound. The cordon of SA and SS officers linked arms to prevent the surge of sightseers spilling into the road.
“He’s coming!” The excitement of the moment caused the stolid woman beside Clara to burst into a cry of joy.
First came a fleet of motorcycle outriders, then Hitler himself, upright at the helm of his seven-liter Mercedes Tourer, with his arm raised in the trademark salute he could apparently hold for two hours straight. His peculiar, impersonal stare traveled like a searchlight across the crowds as his head flicked intermittently right and left, his eyes seemingly seeking out individual faces. Flowers were hurled through the air, hitting the sides of the Mercedes with soft thuds. Surprisingly, only two members of the Adolf Hitler Leibstandarte bodyguard were at the Führer’s side. The usual car of followers was absent.
How vulnerable he was. All it would take would be a single shot and the leader of all Germany, the object of all this adulation, would be extinguished like a lightbulb, along with the fears of an entire continent. Clara wondered if she was the only person who had such a thought. German civilians were never told about attempts on the Führer’s life, but Clara had heard that in Munich several years ago, during a parade like this, a pistol had been found in a newsreel camera mounted on the roof of a car, the barrel of the gun pointed down the lens. Another couple of other assassination attempts had been averted at the last minute. Each lucky escape only served to convince Hitler more firmly of his deepest belief: destiny was on his side.
As he came parallel to Clara, a shaft of sun lanced through a rent in the clouds, and a finger of light pointed down towards his car. Hitler’s bright blue gaze turned in Clara’s direction and seemed to penetrate right to where she was standing.
Clara ducked her head, turned sharply, and pushed her way back through the throng. She had a long day ahead of her and a party to attend that evening. And today of all days she had chosen to move.
Stepping over the bags she had dumped in the hallway and shrugging off her coat, Clara looked around her new home.
For an actress working in the Babelsberg studios, just a short distance away through the Berlin forest, this place couldn’t be more perfect. It was set in a colony of houses built in the nineteenth century by rich Berliners seeking respite from the city on the bucolic shores of the Griebnitzsee. The villas, all of them by up-and-coming architects, boasted a variety of styles—sweet, gabled cottages in the early nineteenth-century Germanic domestic fashion and turreted mock-baronial palaces, alongside modernist constructions with clean lines and open-plan spaces. Since the 1920s, the original owners—the bankers and industrialists—had given way to film stars, and now the little group of houses was known locally as the Artists’ Colony. It was Berlin’s version of the Hollywood Hills—an oasis of luxury just a short drive from the city center for those who could afford privacy and architectural distinction.
Not a category that included Clara Vine.
Although her acting contract with Ufa kept her in regular film work, she was far from the heights of stardom that promised a place in the Artists’ Colony. It might have been her half-English heritage or the rebellious twist to her smile that prevented directors from casting her in leading roles. Or perhaps it was merely that the preferred template for a Reich film star was blond and buxom—a pattern fitted perfectly by her friend Ursula Schilling, who had been one of Ufa’s top actresses until the previous year, when she joined stars like Marlene Dietrich and Billy Wilder in the sanctuary of Hollywood. This was Ursula’s house, and Clara was here only until Ursula decided when, or if, it was safe to return.
If she didn’t know better, Clara might have wondered how Ursula could bear to leave it. Though small, the house, like every other in the Artists’ Colony, was exquisite in every detail. It had been designed by Mies van der Rohe, with a steep-gabled, red-tiled roof, vanilla-painted façade, and teal-blue shutters on the windows. Beech, oak, and pine trees grew all around, shielding each house from any sight of its neighbor, and giving each dwelling a sense of total rural isolation.
The front door opened directly into a paneled, open-plan drawing room running the entire length of the house, furnished with bookshelves and a piano. Expensive rugs covered the polished wooden floor, and there was an armchair soft enough to sink into and never get up.
Ursula had been gone for months now, but the way she had left the house, you would think she had taken a shopping trip to the Kurfürstendamm rather than an ocean liner across the Atlantic. Everything was still there—cushions, lampshades, curtains. The rubble of lotions, stubby kohl pencils, and cratered powders on the dressing table. She had abandoned all her books and furniture, not to mention crockery in the sink and withered rosebuds in a dry vase. Even Ursula’s clothes were still in the bedroom, draped carelessly across chairs, falling out of drawers, and hanging in scented layers of silk and satin like gleaming ghosts.
Fortunately Clara didn’t have much luggage of her own. She had always traveled light, ever since her days in repertory theater in England. All she had with her was a few changes of clothes, her leather jewelry box, Max Factor makeup, a book of Rilke’s poetry with a duck-egg-blue cover, and the sheaf of mail she had grabbed from her apartment as she left.
Wandering into the kitchen, she set down a bag containing black rye bread, eggs, potatoes, and an onion. She had stood in line that morning for the eggs and onion and had every intention of enjoying them in an omelet as soon as she had unpacked. As she ran a tap to fill the kettle, she opened a cupboard to rummage for a cup and discovered, with the delight of an archaeologist making an antique find, a gigantic jar of real Melitta coffee beans, shiny nuggets of black gold, almost untouched. The only coffee to be found in Berlin right now, Kaffee-Ersatz, was a gritty concoction of chicory, oats, and roasted barley mixed with chemicals from coal, oil, and tar; so a jar like this was real treasure. Unscrewing the lid, she inhaled greedily. Everyone in Germany obsessed about food now. They dreamed of potatoes fried in butter, crispy chicken, and fragrant roast meat. Of real coffee and cream. Being half English, Clara fantasized about thick wedges of Fuller’s walnut cake and solid chunks of Cadbury’s chocolate, which were even more impossible to find.
Reading Group Guide
The Real Housewives of Nazi Germany
When I first thought of setting a series of novels in prewar Berlin, I knew a few things. I knew that my heroine was going to be Anglo--German and an actress. I decided that she would be a spy who gains a valuable glimpse of the Nazi elite through the women around her. Yet while I understood a fair bit about the men and the politics of the Third Reich, I realized that I knew far less about the lives of the women in that regime. And increasingly, as I delved deep into the lives of women through their letters and journals, I became fascinated by what I came to think of as the Real Housewives of Nazi Germany.
Under Hitler, every aspect of a woman’s life was tightly controlled, from child--bearing, marriage, and social life, right down to her daily appearance. The ideal woman didn’t pluck her eyebrows, paint her nails, or dye her hair. Nor did she smoke. In the early days of the Reich, bars and restaurants throughout Germany were plastered with signs saying German women don’t smoke, and storm troopers who saw a woman smoking in public were advised to dash the cigarette from her lips.
But the control over women’s appearance didn’t stop at cigarettes and cosmetics. One of the first things Hitler did when he came to power in 1933 was to establish a Reich Fashion Bureau. He realized that fashion carries a potent political message and he knew exactly what image he wanted German women to project to the world. The female look should celebrate tradition, so the Bureau promoted dirndls, bodices, and Tyrolean jackets. Women should only wear clothes made by German designers, with German materials. By “German,” Hitler meant Aryan, which posed an immediate problem because the fashion industry and the textile trade of the time were dominated by Jewish companies. Hitler also frowned on Parisian couture, both because he disliked the French, and also because designers like Coco Chanel encouraged an unnaturally slender silhouette. A nation of women striving for slim hips and boyish bodies was certainly not ideal if Hitler was to achieve one of his major objectives—-to encourage prolific child--bearing.
In one of the many bizarre hypocrisies of the Third Reich, the woman chosen to preside over this Fashion Bureau was Magda Goebbels, the wife of the Propaganda Minister. Like many other aspects of Nazi Germany, Magda Goebbels’s participation was rife with contradictions, and Magda herself was the living, breathing opposite of everything the Bureau promoted. Famed for her love of couture, she changed several times a day, slathered on Elizabeth Arden cosmetics, chain smoked, and wore hand--made Ferragamo shoes. Her favorite fashion designers, Paul Kuhnen, Richard Goetz, Max Becker, and Fritz Grünfeld, were all Jewish.
Yet there was a far greater contradiction in Magda Goebbels’s life than her fashion sense. Before she married, she had a passionate involvement with a leading Zionist called Victor Arlosoroff, who returned to Berlin in 1933 aghast at his former girlfriend’s choice of husband. To me, the idea that the wife of the arch persecutor of the Jews, Joseph Goebbels, should have had an affair with an important Jewish agitator seemed astonishing. But it was typical of the ironies that reigned in that terrible, turbulent regime.
One question always at the back of my mind while I was researching the lives of Nazi women was the extent to which they themselves had exerted a political influence on their husbands. Did any of them act as the power behind the throne? In some cases, the answer was yes. Annelies von Ribbentrop and Lina Heydrich were both considered more ardent Nazis than their husbands. Yet others, like Emmy Goering, actively interceded with their husbands on an occasional basis to save friends. Henriette, the wife of the Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach, was the only one who actually remonstrated with Hitler when she confronted him over dinner at the Berghof about the treatment of Jews in Holland. She was never invited again.
Women are so often the untold half of history and their perspectives are frequently ignored. I think it’s impossible to visualize the Nazi leaders as people without getting a glimpse of their private lives and their most important relationships.
For me, understanding the Real Housewives of Nazi Germany, from the wives of the elite to the ordinary women in the street, was the key to making history and, I hope, my novels come alive.
1. Despite their seemingly different political inclinations, Clara visits her sister when she is upset by Grand’s suggestion of Leo’s death. Blood may be thicker than water, but do you believe, as Clara does, that it should be thicker than war?
2. How does Clara’s status as an English spy change her relationship with Erich?
3. Clara talks about all the things that have been rationed, such as coffee and meat, or made more difficult, such as easy travel. What do you think is the hardest thing for her to sacrifice? What would be the hardest for you?
4. What advice would you give to Hedwig about the conflict between Jochen and her parents?
5. Though Clara narrates the majority of the novel, we occasionally see events from Hedwig’s point of view. In what ways are the two perspectives similar? In what ways are they different?
6. In part due to Clara’s mixed heritage many of her acquaintances ask where she would eventually like to settle down. Where do you think she should go?
7. Conrad Adler knows that Clara is part Jewish, but she continues on with her life as always, even seeing Adler again. Do you agree with her decision, or would you have handled the situation differently?
8. Themes of heritage pervade the book, often bringing into conflict ethnic, religious, cultural, and national identities. What do you think it is that makes you who you are?
9. What do you think Conrad Adler means when he says that Clara has a look of “fire behind ice”?
10. In a world of spies, secrets, and war, it is difficult to know who to trust, and Clara chooses her confidants carefully. Do you agree with all of her choices? Who in your life would you choose to trust if you were in Clara’s circumstances?
11. Do you think Conrad Adler is a good man, or do you think he is as bad as the political party for which he works? Would you trust him? Why or why not?
12. There are quite a few revelations as the final pieces of the book fall into place. What surprised you the most?