Thursday, April 29, 2010

City of Shadows by Ariana Franklin

Title: City of Shadows
Author: Ariana Franklin
ISBN: 9780060817275, Harper, 2007
Genre: Historical mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Paperback Swap

First Line: If Ignaz Stapel hadn't been so afraid of his father, he would have reported the incident and perhaps saved the lives of all the people who were to die as a consequence of it.

It's 1922 in Berlin, Germany. Inflation is mind boggling, the German government seems paralyzed, anti-Semitism is at an all-new high, people are starving, and Hitler is on the rise. Esther Solomonova has managed to find a job as secretary to pseudo-Russian nobleman, Prince Nick, who's the owner of several night clubs in Berlin. Nick finds an inmate in a local insane asylum who claims to be Grand Duchess Anastasia, the sole survivor of the slaughter of the Russian royal family. Nick installs her in an apartment with Esther, beginning his quest to get his hands on the wealth of the Romanovs. However, a mysterious Nazi is trying to murder Anna, and people close to her begin to die.

I have always had a fascination with Tsarist Russia-- in particular Nicholas and Alexandra and their children. As a result, the history of Anna Anderson has also captured my imagination. Franklin uses all this and the backdrop of Berlin to stunning effect. She made me see the hopeless struggles of the German people against runaway inflation and how desperation could make them turn to anyone or anything that seemed to have a solution.

Esther is a beautifully drawn character. Her horrible disfigurement in a pogrom, her strong moral compass, her intelligence... Franklin made me care about this woman, made me wonder how she was going to get away from Prince Nick's schemes, made me hope that she would escape the murderer who was after Anna.

And Franklin had certainly done her homework on Anna Anderson. Although we'll never know what made Anderson jump off that bridge in Berlin, the author's inventions are entirely plausible. In fact, she had me so wrapped up in Anderson's story that I was stunned by the neat twist at the end of the book.

Franklin's depiction of Berlin in the 1920's, her use of the riddle of the woman who was called Anna Anderson, the steadfast and mysterious character of Esther Solomonova, and a frightening murderer in the shadows all combined to make City of Shadows one of the best books I've read so far this year. If you enjoy historical mysteries, I certainly hope you'll give this one a try. As a person who has yet to sample Franklin's more famous Mistress of the Art of Death, I can't help but feel that I have a real treat in store for me!


  1. Oh this sounds wonderful. I also have yet to read Mistress of the Art of Death (coincidentally I was just looking at it on the clearance shelf while getting my coffee a few minutes ago). Like you, I've had a fascination with the Romanovs and thus the Anastasia stories. I'm definitely adding this one to my TBR list. Thanks for finding it for me ;-)

  2. You make it sound so good! I've read some of the author's other work and enjoyed it, so I'm definitely going to keep my eyes out for a copy of this one.

  3. SuziQ-- You're very welcome!

    Kris-- I posted this book to my bookshelf at Paperback Swap after I published the review here on my blog. Five minutes later, someone had requested it. Five minutes after that, the book was ready for the mail. I have the impression that another PBS member is doing a happy dance knowing this is on its way! LOL

  4. I'm fascinated with Tsarist Russia too. My grandfather actually served in the Tsar's Army before he immigrated to the US and I have a picture of him in his uniform. This book sounds like the perfect book for me!

  5. Cathy, I've read MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH with my mystery book group. We all liked it and I've meant to continue that series. This is obviously a non-series book, but it sounds really compelling. Thanks for putting it on my radar!

  6. Thanks Cathy for alerting me to this book - I actually went immediately to book depository and procured a copy. I adored Mistress of the Art of Death and have the second of that series wating for me but I like the idea of seeing how Franklin tackles this different time period and see some new characters.

  7. Like Kathy, I've always been interested in tsarist Russia too, because my grandfather had to escape Russia during the revolution. He served in the tsar's army too, but he wasn't happy about that.

  8. Kathy-- I'd love to see that photo!

    Kay-- You're very welcome. I have Mistress of the Art of Death on my TBR shelves.

    Bernadette-- I hope you enjoy the book!

    Beth-- He sounds as though he was a conscript... not exactly the way to get someone to enjoy his service! I love the things I learn about people by reading comments!


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