‘City of Shadows’ is the first novel that Diana Norman published under the penname Ariana Franklin. The novel is set in the 1920s and 1930s in Berlin.
Esther Solomonova is a young Russian Jewish woman who escaped to Germany (as did many Russians) when the Bolsheviks came to power. With her education and knowledge of languages she is able to get a job as secretary and translator for ‘Prince’ Nick, a sleazy Russian nightclub owner, despite her physical and emotional scars.
Nick hears of a woman in a mental asylum who is rumoured to be Anastasia – the youngest daughter of the Russian Czar and the only survivor of the slaughter of the family. He decides to rescue the woman who he names Anna Anderson and, with Esther’s help, groom her as Anastasia so that he can claim part of the Romanov inheritance.
But Anna was placed in the asylum after being rescued from a canal and the man who put her there keeps returning to finish the job. While Esther and Nick manage to keep Anna safe, several others around her end up murdered.
Detective Siegfried Schmidt is determined to find the killer and bring him to justice, and so begins his growing relationship with Esther.
But in a Germany suffering from hyperinflation, mass unemployment and poverty, who can really care about a single murderer when the greatest murderer of them all – Hitler, is on the rise.
I loved the final twist of the story.
The novel was brilliantly atmospheric as we saw the desperation of the German people allow a maniac to rise to power. With this knowledge, it’s amazing that anyone can believe that crippling a country with sanctions is a good idea.
The story of Anastasia has been told many times but I enjoyed Ariana Franklin’s interpretation and I loved the characters of Esther and Schmidt and my favourite – Marlene.
I’m sad that the brilliant Ariana Franklin is no longer with us, but I’m pleased that I still have several more of her novels on my reading list.
Book Published 2006