Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke – Anne Blankman
Do you think I’d get away just posting the audio of Carly Rae Jepson’s I really Like You instead of writing reviews? No? Shame because I really, really, really, really really, really like this book.
The girl known as Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: she used to be part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle. More than a year ago, she made an enemy of her old family friend and fled Munich to live in Oxford, posing as an ordinary German immigrant. Her love, Daniel Cohen, is a reporter in town, and Gretchen is content. Then a telegram sends Daniel back to Germany, and her world turns upside-down when she learns that Daniel is wanted for murder. To save him, she must return to her homeland and somehow avoid capture and recognition by her former friends, the Nazi elite. And as she and Daniel work to clear his name, they discover a deadly conspiracy stretching from the slums of Berlin to the Reichstag itself. Can they dig up the explosive truth and escape in time – or will Hitler discover them first?
I have mentioned many, many times on this blog that I am fascinated with the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and the events of the second world war, I talked about this a lot when I posted about my Berlin trip and also when I reviewed the first book in this series, Prisoner of Night and Fog, which I loved, and so it was a with a sense of desperation that I requested the sequel when it appeared on bookbridgr and well, having read it, I’m kind of in two minds. Like Carly Rae says in her annoyingly catchy pop song, it wasn’t love, but I really, really, really, really, really, really liked it. I just didn’t love it. Let’s discuss.
So, the first book, we have Hitler prior to becoming chancellor, he’s Uncle Dolf, a somewhat strange, but passionate individual who dotes on Gretchen and her friends, taking her under his wing after the death of her father. We then have Gretchen meeting Daniel, someone she has been bought up to hate based on his race alone, but she soon realises that prejudices are stupid because Daniel isn’t evil or full of germs, he is a human being like she is and together they uncover the truth behind the death of Gretchen’s father and just what exactly Hitler has planned for her country. This, I think, was the real selling point of the book because although it was a piece of historical fiction, more than that, it was a piece of psychological fiction. With every page you have Gretchen wrestling with falling in love with Daniel alongside continuing to believe what she has been taught her entire life, you have her slowly realising just who her Uncle Dolf is and what he is capable of and how she tries to align this information with the man she has always know. It was fascinating and engrossing writing. With Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke, we don’t have this inner turmoil because Gretchen has fled Germany, she is no longer any where near Hitler and she is free to be with Daniel, now that she has had her eyes opened to the brainwashing that her family had inflicted on her. Instead, we have a somewhat convoluted reason for the two of them to return to Germany and try to keep out of the way of the SA, SS and various other influential Nazis (which obviously, they don’t manage to do otherwise it would be a very dull book.)
The action and the thrills of the first book are present in the second, but instead of the psychological aspect, we now have this new dimension of the Daniel/Gretchen relationship. While I LOVED the psychology of book one, I also adored the complexities of this new dynamic. Unlike most couples whose relationship isn’t the driving force of the story, Gretchen and Daniel actually had problems and layers. Obviously, their families do not approve of their taste in partners, there is also the added fact that while living in England, yes they were together and they loved each other, Daniel didn’t like it. He hated his job, he hated living in the country and he was bored and lonely with very few friends, whereas Gretchen found herself a family and had school friends. Even though this is a story about trying to evade capture from Hitler against the backdrop of a murder mystery and Hitler gaining power, it had the trials and tribulations of compromising in a relationship. These two love each other, but it is a very real love with complications and issues which was really refreshing to see. So while I enjoyed that aspect and the book in general, I just didn’t think that a sequel was completely necessary… Daniel returns to Germany to see a cousin who is on their deathbed, despite the fact that he knows he is a wanted man and that he left using false papers (idk about you, but if I were the cousin, I would totally understand that Daniel hadn’t come to see me given the circumstances) once in Germany, the Nazis find him and pin a murder on him, so naturally, instead of deciding to just gtfo, he stays to clear his name KNOWING THAT THEY ALREADY WANT HIM DEAD. Can you see why I am in two minds about this? There wasn’t really any reason for him to go back to Germany in the first place, let alone stay. Anyway, because of this, Gretchen then (of course) has to go and help him. Even though she’s probably even more recognisable to members of the Nazi party considering that she was regularly seen at Hitler’s side and all. I kind of felt like this plot point wasn’t very strong, with all the trouble they went to to get out of Germany, it seems a bit silly to go back. But anyway, once they are returned to Germany, the fun really starts to begin, so I guess I can forgive the irritating set up.
The murder mystery aspect of the story is really well written, Anne Blankman creates a series of webs which get darker as they go on and as we all know the story of Hitler and what he did, the story itself becomes more and more sinister when you realise that even though this is a work of fiction, these sorts of events happened all the time.
As a piece of historical fiction this is pretty spot on, we find various aspects of German history being told, with the Reichstag Fire and German mafia type gangs all getting mentions as well as the infiltration and rise of the Nazis. Our two main heroes even end up in Berlin after a while and like I’ve said many times before, I love reading about places that I’ve visited. Of course, 1930s Berlin is very different to 2014 Berlin, what with the Berlin Wall not even being an inclination, but it was great to see places like Alexanderplatz and Potsdammerplatz being mentioned!
All in all, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke is a strong novel, historically it is on point and story wise it ticks a lot of boxes, I just wish that the reason for going back to Germany was a little more credible. So, even though I loved your predecessor, I can only say that I really, really, really, really, really, really liked this one.