Monday, June 20, 2011

City of Shadows, by Ariana Franklin

There is something about royalty that is fascinating to many of us.  If you need any evidence of this, just take a look at the enormous amount of media coverage that the recent royal wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton received.  I know that I am not the only woman who spent a good part of her girlhood wishing that she had been born a princess.

The 20th century was a bad time for royalty.  Many, many monarchies either disappeared completely or were weakened to the point of figurehead status, including the kingdom of which Prince William will one day be the king.  But perhaps no one had it as bad as the Romanovs of Russia.  The repressive political system in Russia led to tyranny, ethnic cleansing, and the exacerbation of poverty.  In response, the Bolsheviks didn't just depose the royal family-they executed them, all of them, including the children.  This is probably not a new story to most of you-the tragedy of Prince Alexei and his four sisters, the grand-duchesses.  The most famous of those little girls, of course, was Anastasia.  Years after the massacre at Ekaterinburg, a woman turned up claiming to be Grand Duchess Anastasia.  She convinced many many, usually wealthy, people that she was in fact the daughter of Czar Nikolas.  It is this woman, Anna Anderson, that provides the underlying structure of Ariana Franklin's City of Shadows.

(From Amazon) "British author Franklin (the pseudonym of a veteran historical fiction writer) makes the most of an original premise in this engrossing thriller that opens in 1922 Berlin. The German government is in crisis, inflation is staggering, anti-Semitism is rife, citizens are starving and Hitler has begun his rise to power. Horribly scarred Esther Solonomova works as a secretary for fake Russian nobleman Prince Nick, the owner of several Berlin nightclubs (think Cabaret) catering to the rich, the foreign and the deviant. Nick finds an inmate in a local asylum who claims to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, sole survivor of the slaughter of Russia's royal family. Prince Nick renames the inmate Anna Anderson, installs her in an apartment with Esther and sets in motion plans to get his hands on the money and jewels that Anna will claim as the heir to the Russian throne. But a mysterious Nazi is trying to murder Anna, and those near her begin to die."

I read and enjoyed Ariana Franklin's historical mystery series about Adelia, a Salerno-trained doctor solving crimes during the reign of Henry II of England, so I had high hopes for this novel, and it delivered.  Rich characters were a big part of its appeal-Esther is a woman with a painful past, the detective who investigates the murders, Seigfried Schmidt, is decent and driven by the horrors he witnessed during the war.  But what really made the book for me was the evocative way that Franklin wrote about Germany between the big wars.  Reading about the rise of Hitler was a little bit like seeing a horrific accident happen and being unable to stop it.  You really get the sense of how an entire country was taken in by this charismatic leader who played on their fears and promised to get the country out from under the yoke of the "Jewish bankers" who were ruining the lives of good, hard-working Germans.  The "is she or isn't she?" subplot worked well as a framework for this story, and Franklin did something that not too many mystery writers are able to do anymore-she completely surprised me with the ending.  All in all I'd say that if you are looking for a mystery with a little more substance than is usual in today's world of books, then you would enjoy this one.

2 comments:

  1. I have only read the first book in the Adelia series, so I don't have much experience with this author, but this sounds good!

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  2. I have not read any books by this author but I know they sell well at the bookstore I work at. Just another author to add to my long list.
    I never realized how intricate they are.

    :)

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