David Young

A Darker State – David Young

Title – A Darker State

Author – David Young

Published – Feb 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

I reviewed David Young’s debut, Stasi Child, in October 2015,  last year it was the second novel in the Karin Müller series – Stasi Wolf, and now we have the third instalment in A Darker State.  Set some months after the end of the second book, Karin is feeling a little more domesticated with her newly extended family. Her break from work doesn’t last long, however, when she gains another speedy promotion and a new apartment, but as she well knows, everything has its price and she is soon involved in a new case following the discovery of the body of a young boy.

Berlin, Karl-Marx-Allee, Strausberger Platz

Karl-Marx-Allee, Strausberger Platz, Berlin Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-U0416-0017 / Schulz / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The investigation is slow to develop – it seems that the different divisions within the police and bureaucracy weren’t up to much in the way of cooperation. Karin isn’t one to give up easily though, as you’ll know if you’ve read any of the previous books in the series. The case is brought closer to home when it becomes apparent that there may be a link between the young man’s death and the disappearance of the son of one of her co-workers and as a new mother Karin is more sympathetic than perhaps she might have been in the past.

The missing boy is Markus Schmidt and throughout the book there are chapters told from his point of view where we get to find out about his backstory as the events unfold that see him become ever more distant from his parents. His story is both sad and his treatment despicable, a thought-provoking thread to the story.

We get a tiny glimpse more into the relationships between the main characters and find out that there is more to Tilsner/Jäger’s relationship than we might have thought. And just when I thought that Karin’s ex-husband had been forgotten we get a tantalising hint that all isn’t as it should be.

I don’t think anyone would be surprised at what was going on behind the Berlin Wall and this gives the author the opportunity to develop some real-life incidents into more gripping fictional ones. The political divisions and the controlling influence of the Stasi also allow for dramatic and tense situations and regardless of how the reader knows Karin she still ends up at the wrong end of the legal system.

Young writes really immersive historical fiction – there’s never a moment when the writing takes you out of the book and makes you question what you’re reading. The book is both a mystery and has its thrills and of course Karin is a great leading character. So do you need to have read the previous books in the series? This would probably make enough sense if you read it first but you would miss some of the backstory and character development that are relevant in the series.

Another enjoyable piece for Cold War crime fiction – many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.



Stasi Wolf – David Young


Title – Stasi Wolf

Author – David Young

Published – Feb 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

I reviewed David Young’s debut, Stasi Child, in October 2015 and in 2016 it was the winner of the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger – a great feat for a debut. So what’s the sequel like I hear you ask – any ‘second novel’ issues? I have to say that I think Stasi Wolf is the better of the two books.

Following the end of Stasi Child Karin Müller has been sidelined from her activities in the Berlin murder squad and separated from her old partner. Which means that when she is offered another job which will involved the interference of the Stasi she still accepts it. The assignment sees her sent to Halle-Neustadt, a new ‘city’ created in 1967 and known as City of the Chemistry Workers it was one of the largest construction projects on post-war Germany.

ADN-ZB Lehmann 30.4.82 Halle: Fast 100.000 Einwohner zählt heute die Chemiearbeiterstadt Halle-Neustadt. Überwiegend Werktätige aus den Chemiekombinaten Leuna und Buna sowie aus anderen Großbetrieben sind hier zu Hause. Neben modernen und komfortablen Wohnhäusern prägen Sozial-, Kultur-, Sport- und Dienstleistungseinrichtungen das Bild von Halle-Neustadt.


The case she is sent to investigate, set in 1975, is the disappearance of twin babies. Of course in a city that is the pride of the communist state the Stasi are keen to control how far the team is allowed to publicise the case and who they are able to question about it. As ever, Karin is determined to find justice and her empathy with the parents of the missing babies helps to drive her to find a resolution. She has to work with and despite the Stasi and the team of local police who initiated the investigation.

As a possible clue to the case there are some passages, set in the past, which are narrated by a character who the reader can’t necessarily identify but they are obviously key to the mystery.

This book felt as if it dwelt less on the comparisons of the free West versus the East and more on the new world that the Eastern German citizens were being offered. It’s clear from the descriptions that this isn’t perhaps all that it’s cracked up to be and this isn’t what the leaders would want the populace to think but from Karin’s perspective you get a feeling for both points of view.

One aspect I was curious about was Karin’s husband. In Stasi Child it felt as if there was more to his relocation than perhaps Karin knew but that was only lightly hinted at here. What we did find out was more about Karin’s own backstory and specifically an incident as a small child and the loss of her best friend.

As with the preceding novel the author brings the atmosphere of the post-war setting without filling the narrative with too much detail. It certainly conveys the claustrophobic feeling of living in an environment where the wrong word or emotion can lead to no end of trouble.

The resolution perhaps relies a little more on coincidence than I would like but it is satisfying regardless of that. Although it can be hard to judge when you have read the preceding book, I don’t think you would feel you were missing out if you read this book without reading Stasi Child first.

A great follow-up to an award-winning debut, this is shaping up to be a series well worth reading. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can see another point to view on Kate’s blog – For Winter Nights.


Crime fiction debuts to look out for in February 2016

This look at forthcoming debuts seems to work well as a monthly collection so here we are looking forward to books being published in February 2016. For a list of debuts in January see here.

11 February 2016

51wdK96oR+LStasi Child by David Young (from twenty7)

This is the publication date for the paperback version of this historical thriller, an ebook version having been released in October 2015.

Set in East Berlin in 1975, the main protagonist, and the 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. Evoking the period and the Cold War atmosphere this is a great novel for anyone enjoying Deutschland 83.

You can read my review here. You can catch up with David on Twitter @djy_writer

51rlVozsupLBehind Closed Doors by B A Paris (from MIRA)

The shout line for the debut from this Franco-Irish author is “Sometimes, the perfect marriage is the perfect lie”. This sets the scene for a psychological thriller exploring a flawed relationship.

Jack and Grace seem to be the perfect couple but behind the facade lies a different story. Told by alternating between the present and the past, the early reviews of this suggest that BA Paris has written a gripping and disturbing debut portraying a poisonous relationship.

Follow B A on Twitter @BAParisAuthor

15 February 2016

41kNvwMBZCLJihadi: A Love Story by Yusuf Toropov (from Orenda Books)

An American Muslim living in Northern Ireland, although the author or co-author of a number of nonfiction books as well as writing plays, this is Toropov’s debut novel.

A former intelligence agent stands accused of terrorism, held without charge in a secret overseas prison. His memoir is in the hands of a brilliant but erratic psychologist whose annotations paint a much darker picture. As the story unravels, we are forced to assess the truth for ourselves, and decide not only what really happened on one fateful overseas assignment but who is the real terrorist. Peopled by a diverse and unforgettable cast of characters, whose reliability as narrators is always questioned, and with a multi-layered plot heaving with unexpected and often shocking developments.

Yusuf tweets @LiteraryStriver

25 February 2016

91YMbqYiNfLThe Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis (from Two Roads)

Yes, it’s that Janet Ellis, and this debut is attracting a lot of attention, particularly as it sounds darker than many people would have imagined a former Blue Peter presenter would have written. Or perhaps that’s the explanation… One piece of information I have been able to glean is that Janet recently attended the ‘Curtis Brown Creative’ writing school.

There does seem to be some difference of opinion on whether this is crime fiction or not. It is definitely historical – set in 1763 and the main character is 19 year-old Anne Jacob. A coming-of-age novel with a strong female lead I have seen this described as both violent and bawdy.

You can find Janet on Twitter @missjanetellis. If you’re interested in buying a copy you might be interested to know that Goldsboro Books have a limited edition available.

Crime fiction debuts seem to be a bit thin on the ground in February – let me know if there are any I’ve missed.

Stasi Child – David Young

Stasi ChildTitle – Stasi Child

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.