Mistress of the Ritz

by Melanie Benjamin 

 I’m honestly not obsessed with France, but here is another review of a tale set in the city of lights. This one finds the country once more in turmoil, only this time rather than internal strife, an invading evil force has seized control.

Just like Ribbons of Scarlet, this is a captivating tale centered about true events, only this time the heroine is a real-life American woman, who during World War II worked as a spy for the French Resistance.

Mistress of the Ritz Book CoverThe backdrop for this story is the elegant Hotel Ritz in Paris. The Ritz has everything; if they don’t, they’ll find it. Food, wine, flowers, beautiful accommodations, and the ambiance doesn’t end there. Only the Rich stay at the Ritz (it should have been their slogan); Ernest Hemmingway and Coco Chanel to drop a few names.  

Claude Auzello, the hotel director sees to every need and his wife Blanche, known as the mistress of the Ritz, supports him in his duties.  For many, their lives look glamorous, but behind closed doors trouble brews, and secrets fester.

Then in June of 1940 after a short vacation, Claude and Blanche return to a changed Paris. The Occupation has begun. The Third Reich’s flag flies over all the city, and Hermann Goëring and his Luftwaffe now call the Ritz home.

With their staff disrupted, and their beloved Ritz now part of the German rest and recreation package, Blanche and Claude discover they must obey or suffer the plight of many of their Jewish friends and co-workers.

Mistress of the Ritz - Claude Auzello
Claude Auzello
Mistress of the Ritz - Blanche Auzello
Blanche Auzello

Claude and Blanche soldier on with the hope that this madness is only temporary. As Claude works to secure the freedom of himself and his wife, he must constantly cower to the Germans an act that sickens Blanche. Soon it is evident that escape is impossible that the Germans now firmly control all of France.

While their marriage crumbles, unbeknownst to either, each begins to assist the underground. Claude passes along messages and hides those in temporary need. Blanche plays the drinking sot as a cover for securing information.

But when Blanche is taken prisoner, Claude finds he cannot function. The love they have has always been tested, but if he should lose Blanche all is lost.

This is a beautiful story based on true events that really had me on the edge of my seat. There is an old radio program of the early forties whose introductory slogan fits this novel’s compelling story to a T. Mistress of the Ritz is a “ “tale well-calculated to keep you in…Suspense”. I enjoyed it immensely.

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