Jane Thynne’s Solitaire, featuring her actress turned spy, Clara Vine, is set in the edgy days of wartime Paris, when the city of light went dark. Here are ten things she learned about Paris when writing the thriller.
1) Coco Chanel was the fashion icon, but despite her trademark preference for black and white, in matters of morality she was several shades of grey. Chanel shut down her salon at the outbreak of war and moved into the Ritz where she carried on an affair with her blond Nazi lover, Hans Gunther von Dincklage. When Paris was liberated, Chanel fled to Switzerland and escaped being put on trial for collaboration but declassified military archives reveal the French police had a file on her, with the reference number of a German spy.
2) Cartier’s was a favourite with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, for whom the company made their celebrated Panther brooches, but when war broke out the head of the firm, Louis Cartier, fled to England, leaving behind his lover and chief designer, Jeanne Toussaint. She created a brooch of a red, white and blue songbird in a golden cage and bravely put in Cartier’s front window. The Nazis took the hint and arrested her. At the end of the war Toussaint created a matching brooch, with the songbird released from its cage.
3) Number 84, Avenue Foch was the Paris HQ of the Gestapo, the address deliberately chosen because it was the French General Marchal Foch who received the German surrender in World War 1.
4) Even before the invasion, the Louvre began packing up its paintings and sending them out to chateaux around the country, but that didn’t prevent a wide-scale looting of French art once the Nazis arrived. It took the Monuments Men to track down and return the thousands of Old Masters that the Nazis had stolen.
5) The Ritz hotel was HQ for the Luftwaffe and its head, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering. There, officers enjoyed champagne cocktails and white linen table cloths, and air raid shelters equipped with fur rugs and silk Hermes sleeping bags. Goering’s quarters took up an entire floor and included a reinforced marble bath capable of sustaining his bulk. Hitler’s number two liked wearing lavender trousers, kimonos, gowns trimmed with ermine, jewelled sandals and diamond earrings. He also wore make-up and kept crystal bowls brimming with morphine tablets, to which he was addicted.
6) The Velodrome d’Hiver was a cycling stadium that in July 1942 became the scene of the infamous mass round-up of Parisian Jews. They were kept for five days without food or drink except from the Red Cross, and eventually moved to the Drancy concentration camp, then to Auschwitz. Of more than thirteen thousand people, only 400 survived.
7) Maxims, with its red velvet and Art Nouveau décor, was the Nazis favourite restaurant. They placed it under German management and fearing poison, Goering brought in his favourite chef, Otto Horcher, from Berlin.
8) Adolf Hitler had always adored Paris. He knew its buildings intimately from drawings and maps and its capture was of great symbolic importance. Yet astonishingly he visited just once, in June 1940, and spent only sixteen hours there, seeing the Eiffel Tower and the opera. Terrified of a coup in his absence, he never returned.
9) The Duke and Duchess of Windsor lived at 24, Boulevard Suchet, next to the Bois de Boulogne, but once the Nazis arrived they fled south, and ultimately to Portugal. Wallis Simpson refused to leave Europe, however, until someone had been sent to collect up the china and linen she had left in her Paris home.
10) Pablo Picasso was blacklisted by the Nazis and banned from exhibiting his wartime work in public because he was considered a degenerate artist. Yet he refused to flee Paris and continued living there as an act of resistance.