Wednesday, March 26, 2008

City of Shadows, by Ariana Franklin

(hb; 2006)

From the inside flap:

“...Germany in the 1920s and 1930s – a decadent, turbulent time in which a proud nation scarred by defeat, deprivation, and debauchery will become the fertile breeding ground for the rise of National Socialism.

“Berlin, 1922 – one of this troubled city’s growing number of refugees, Esther Solomonova survives by working as secretary to her fellow Russian emigre, ‘Prince’ Nick, a scheming adventurer and cabaret owner. Always on the prowl for a deal, Nick smells money when he hears of a woman in an asylum claiming to be the grand duchess, daughter of the Czar of all the Russias, who escaped the assassination of the rest of her family by the Bolsheviks. Enlisting a highly suspicious Esther, Nick plans to prepare the woman – known as Anna Anderson – to claim the Romanov fortune.

“But Anna is being hunted. Or so she claims. At first Esther believes Anna’s fear to be just in her imagination – until innocent people around them begin to die. So in a Berlin stricken by hyperinflation, Esther enlists the help of a German police officer – a dogged inspector named Schmidt – to try and find out who wants Anna dead – and why. Yet the deeper she and Schmidt dig, the more they realize that their own lives are at risk.”


Franklin’s first novel is completely thrillville: it has romance, constant suspense, duplicitous characters, a mounting body count, the rise of Naziism, believable twists, and relatable characters worth rooting for (or hissing at).

Like the better historical thrillers that see the publishing light of day, it also has real-life famous folk, who pass through its pages – met, as it were, as flesh-and-blood people. Franklin populates City of Shadows with Peter Lorre (star of M and other notable films), Hermann Göring (who became Hitler’s “minister of interior” in 1933), Fritz Lang (director of M, Metropolis, and other masterworks), and Adolf Hitler himself.

The finish disappointed me – I’m often not a big fan of semi-cliffhanger finishes – but I can see why Franklin might’ve utilized it. Other than that, City of Shadows is as entrancing and unputdownable as Mistress of the Art of Death, Franklin’s second novel (not related to City).

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