Justice in a time of madness
Berlin in the 1920s was a desperate city, its collection of decadant cabarets a veneer for a population struggling to survive after the horrors of the first World War. As such, it's an apt home for Esther Solomonova, a Jewish Russian emigree who bears the literal and emotional scars of the tumultuous Russian revolution. She has only begun to put her past behind her when her employer, the flamboyant club owner 'Prince' Nick, discovers a woman in a local insane hospital that he believes is Grand Duchess Anastasia, the sole surviving member of the Russian royal family.
Nick hopes to cash in on the royal wealth, and Esther is given the task of making Anastasia--or Anna Anderson, as she is known to the skeptical--into believable royalty. But soon people associated with the would-be princess begin to turn up murdered. Esther has her suspicions that the identity of the murderer can be found in Anna's murky past, but it is only when Inspector Siegfried Schmidt takes on the case that the truth begins to be revealed. But in a city that is rapidly coming under the domination of the rising Nazi party, Schmidt and Esther struggle for justice in a new Germany that has little respect for the law.
Ariana Franklin's suspense novel City of Shadows masterfully blends the fictional and the historical into an atmospheric mystery with a climactic finish. Although Esther and Schmidt are fictional, there was a real Anna Anderson whose story Franklin follows fairly closely. Perhaps the best aspect to Franklin's novel, however, is the depiction of Berlin, which comes to life as fully as the human characters to create a compelling mystery in a time and place gone terribly wrong.