Murder mystery meets historical enigma in pre–Nazi Era Berlin.
Franklin’s historical thriller flows from the crossover point between two populations in flux: the Germans of the Weimar Republic and a surge of Russian émigrés—rich whites, poor servants, scarred Jews—fleeing the Bolsheviks. Using extensive research, she evokes the hectic, Cabaret-esque mood of 1920s Berlin and the growing appeal to the Germans of Hitler’s brand of aggressive nationalism, in the wake of the hyper-inflation and shame arising from defeat in World War I. Two questions drive the plot: Could one of the Czar’s daughters have survived the massacre of the Russian royal family at Ekaterinburg? And who is the hulking murderer slaughtering women in the German capital? Prince Nick Potrovskov, a wheeler-dealer club owner and currency speculator, rescues a frightened, identity-less woman, who might be Anastasia, Princess of all the Russias, from the Berlin insane asylum and resettles her under the name Anna Anderson in an apartment with two companions, Nicky’s world-weary Jewish secretary Esther and an ex-Romanov servant-turned-stripper, Natalya. Anna is terrified of a man she claims is stalking her, maybe a Cheka Communist operative. When Esther is attacked, then Natalya killed, Police Inspector Schmidt takes up the case, simultaneously tracing the criminal to Hitler’s Brownshirts and falling in love with Esther. The irregularly shaped and paced story wraps up a decade later as Hitler comes to power. If Anna’s past and future circumstances remain hung about with question marks, Germany’s do not. Franklin, stirring a strange pot of romance, violence, sardonic humor and self-fulfilling prophecy, is most successful with scenes between her wise-cracking lovers. Anna and Esther have an audience with Adolf but the big finale is when the real Romanov steps forward.
Entertaining enough when not stating the historically obvious.