Thursday, February 4, 2016

Book Review: "The Scent of Secrets" by Jane Thynne

The Scent of Secrets Jane Thynne
Published: September 15, 2015
ISBN: 9780553393903
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Netgalley

You might enjoy this book if you like: World War II Historical Fiction, novels about the "Golden Age" of filmmaking, spy novels

August, 1938. Paris is a city living on its nerves and the threat of war hangs heavy as a distant thunderstorm on a summer's day.

British actress, Clara Vine, is in Paris to film her latest movie, having left Berlin under a cloud. Joseph Goebbels has become increasingly suspicious that Clara has been mingling in Berlin society and passing snippets of information to her contacts in the British Embassy. It would have been absurd, if it hadn't also been true…

With war becoming increasingly likely, Clara is approached by an undercover British operative, Guy Hamilton, who asks her to perform a task for her country: to befriend Eva Braun, Hitler's girlfriend, and to pass on any information she can gather.

Clara knows that to undertake this task is to put herself back in danger. But she also knows that soon she may have to do everything in her power to protect her country… 

My Thoughts:
Reading this book was one of the more frustrating experiences of my reading life.  That being said, a big chunk of my frustration stems not from the book itself, but from a choice made by the American publisher.

This book was originally published in the United Kingdom under the title A War of Flowers and it is the third book in a series of four books (so far).  However, the American publisher made the decision to publish this book first, as a standalone--although the author says that the first two books (and supposedly subsequent books) will be published at a later date.  I didn't realize until I was at least a fourth of the way into this book that this was the case, although I suspected that I was missing something.

You see, this book is one that needs to be read as part of a series.  Yes, you can follow the plot of this story without the first two books (mostly because it is all based on actual and well-known events), but you will definitely feel like you are a party where everyone knows everyone and you know no one.  There are some interesting characters who pop in and out--characters who were apparently well-developed in previous books, and the main character is presented pretty much as-is.  There are also characters who are "referred to" who either only appear briefly or don't appear at all, which would make sense if you knew who they were but, not having read the earlier books, you'll just wonder what is going on.

An even bigger problem is that I spent almost the entire book wondering why Clara, if she was in so much danger, didn't just go back to her native England.  I'm assuming that the reason for this is given in one of the earlier books, but the absence of it here makes the reader who is starting with this book question the entire premise of the book.

However, even with this handicap, there were things I liked and disliked about this book.  The characters, while most were developed in earlier books, are intriguing.  I do believe that Thynne did fictionalize the personalities of many of the historical characters--Joseph Goebbels is supposed to have been dashing and handsome (really?  have you seen pictures of that guy?) and Eva Braun was supposed to be a silly, silly girl of no real consequence, which may not be completely inaccurate, but still sells the historical Eva Braun short.  Still, as a work of fiction, these things can be overlooked because Thynne does make the characters so interesting.

I did feel that this was a spy book less like say, James Bond, and more like a game of chess.  I'm not exactly a Bond fan, but I do wish that there was more, well, ,action in this book.  Really, the only action was Clara going from a movie studio to a party to a salon to a restaurant and so on.  The plot does crescendo, but the peak of that crescendo falls flat.

I was also bothered by the fact that the two plots--Clara as a spy in the resistance and the case of a murdered young woman on a cruise--never really come to a conclusion, much less a satisfying merging of the two story lines.  This left the narrative feeling incomplete--like Thynne had run out of energy and just wanted to finish things quickly.

Obviously, not everything can be blamed on the book and the author as the publisher deserves a hefty dose of criticism.  The flaws in this book outside of that are not so great that they "ruined" things for me and, honestly, if I had had the opportunity to read the first two books, I might have had a very different opinion.

I received an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

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