While many people embrace the notion that Anastasia escaped, Anna Anderson finds herself the target of an elusive killer lurking in the shadows, waiting to silence her forever.
In “City of Shadows”, the story opens with a crime taking place on a bridge, in the cloak of darkness and shadow. A man and a woman struggling in the dark. The mood is deliciously and eerily sinister. The story then moves on and we are soon introduced to cabaret owner, Prince Nick who is a second-rate crook running high end night clubs in Berlin that serves mostly political dignitaries. Nick’s secretary, Esther Solomonova, is his sounding board and occasional lover between romantic flings.
The story is told mostly through the eyes of Esther, a Russian refugee with a disfiguring scar on her face that was a result of a pogrom. She’s been to hell and back. Her family was wiped out by the pogrom and she refuses to bow down to survivor’s guilt. She is practical and resilient. She gets pulled along by Nick’s scheme, to pass off Anna Anderson as the murdered czar’s long lost daughter, Grand Duchess Anastasia in order to claim the Romanov inheritance.
Nick invests in Anna Anderson’s story by providing for her a place to stay with Esther and Natalya, a show girl in one of Nick’s clubs. Anna later proves to be more trouble than she’s worth. While at the asylum another inmate claims that Anna was being stalked by a “Checka” that would show up every sixth weekend. Everyone dismisses this idea as the paranoia of the mentally insane. However, soon after Anna is discharged from the hospital and put into Nick’s care, bodies start to pile up. What was once a young woman’s delusional fantasies turns out to be more truth than myth. Someone from Anna’s past is hunting her and Anna refuses to say anything about her life prior to her being locked up in the asylum. The hunt is on to find this clever and elusive killer who feels threatened by Anna and her cohorts.
The story is broken down into two parts and spans about a decade. The first part of the book was more gripping for me than the second part. The dispersal of history the author weaves into the story about the Romanov family and their grisly deaths was akin to hearing a ghost story told around a camp fire. The economy in Germany is terrible. Many people are jobless, hungry and dispirited and feel they lack a strong leader. The story takes place right when Hitler is on the cusp of gaining power and directing Germany down a treacherous path. The body count in the story was somewhat high and had a few members in it that I hadn’t expected to join it. I hate surprises like that but it keeps readers on their toes.
The second part of the story arc focuses relentlessly on the whereabouts of a killer who is suspected to be apart of Hitler’s brownshirt storm troopers (SA). Inspector Schmidt’s tertiary POV dominated this part of the story. Schmidt served in the Western front and now he is a married police officer with a baby on the way. Schmidt is a honest and hardworking man and a believer of law and order. He is determined to catch a killer and bring him to justice.
What I love about Ms. Franklin ‘s work is that she has the skill of incorporating facts without it feeling like an info dump and her recreation of a turbulent Germany made me feel as if I was actually there. As much as I enjoyed the story, the pacing was a bit uneven and the plot tended to wander. There’s a brief romance that develops and it is a nice bonus but it is tertiary. The murder mystery took it’s time unfolding and I found myself heavily invested in who the bad guy was and uncovering the motive behind his actions.
The ever evolving and often violent political climate of Germany played a significant role in the story and kept me on the edge of my seat. The slow infiltration of the police force by the SS and the announcement of Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor helped make the climatic ending to this story a edge of your seat nail biter. It really is a race against time to find a killer who is literally protected and above the law now that the Nazi’s are in power. The author does an excellent job with the mood and her deft characterizations make this story one you’d recommend without reservations. This is suspense at it’s best despite the trouble I had with the pacing. City of Shadows is a very well told thriller by an author who is the master of telling, well, great stories. B+.
Other novels I’ve enjoyed by this author under the Ariana Franklin pen name: Mistress of the Art of Death, The Serpent’s Tale and under the name of Diana Norman: The Vizard Mask, Blood Royal, Taking Liberties and A Catch of Consequence.
This review is apart of TBR Day that my fellow readers and I are participating in until December 2008. The goal is to read at least one book from your TBR pile and review it each month. Please make sure to visit the other participants of this challenge.