Author – David Young
Published – Sept 2015
Genre – Crime fiction
Not only is this a debut book, but it comes from a new Adult Fiction imprint of Bonnier Publishing called ‘Twenty7’. The imprint was established in 2014 and is focusing on debuts which they will publish initially as e-books followed by mass market paperbacks within six months.
Stasi Child is told from three different points of view and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that the three characters have a link, although it’s not until some way through the book that the details become clear. Set in East Berlin in 1975, the main protagonist, and our investigator, is Oberleutnant Karin Müller, the only female head of a murder squad in the Deutsche Demokratische Republic. She is called to investigate the body of a young girl who has been discovered at the foot of the infamous Wall. Not only is the location inauspicious but members of the Stasi are also interested in the death. In fact the Stasi want Müller to undertake the investigation to identify the girl, but are very firm that this has a strict boundary and the cause of death has already been given an official explanation. Needless to say things don’t necessarily go the way that the Stasi intended.
The second character is Müller’s husband Gottfried who is a mild-mannered teacher struggling with the possible infidelities of his wife and seemingly harbouring some unwise interest in the West.
The final thread of the story is told in the first person and starts around nine months before the discovery of the unidentified corpse. This part of the story is from the perspective of a young girl who is being held in a “Jugendwerkhof”, a sort of state youth workhouse designed to ‘re-educate’ young people. The children at this school are mis-treated and desperate to find a way out.
Young has made an interesting choice in the period he has chosen for the setting – his writing has an authentic feel to it but the period is one that is still recent enough that people could verify (or dispute) the details should he put a foot wrong. Young also makes good use of the weather, with a winter setting, and the bleakness of winter in East Germany adds to the dark and chilling nature of the story. The atmosphere he creates is reminiscent of the Russian novels by William Ryan, with same feel of fear. oppression and deprivation. As with Ryan’s books the investigator is put in a position where there could be dire consequences if they reach the ‘wrong’ answer. In Müller Young has created a strong female lead determined to act for the victim and while she doesn’t have some of the standard cliched flaws common in crime fiction she isn’t perfect.
I was impressed by the skills of Müller’s scientist colleague who had the ability to carry out some pretty nifty analysis within the constraints of what I imagine to be a very tightly managed budget. But the findings helped to move the plot along.
This is a debut that doesn’t try too hard – it doesn’t feel as if the author is trying to prove that they’ve got a wide vocabulary, done mountains of research or can write pages of snappy dialogue. Which means that all of those things have been done with a light touch making this is an enjoyable read in an unusual setting and I look forward to reading the next in the series.
Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. You can see another point of view at Finding Time to Write.