"Stasi Wolf" by David Young
This is the sequel to "Stasi Child" which if I'm honest, was perhaps not a book I would have normally picked up to read but I did and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's exciting when you stumble across something that is not in your normal genre then end up buying it for half a dozen friends! As I said in my review for "Stasi Child" (which you can read here: Bibliomaniac's review of Stasi Child ) I was surprised this was Young's first novel but then, that meant there would be many future instalments and without having to wait too long - here it is!
Once again, I had a momentarily flicker of trepidation about reading a police procedural novel set in East Germany in 1975 but do you know what, even though the historical and political setting is still very much part of the novel, this is actually a story about women, motherhood and missing children. It is as gripping and as harrowing as any contemporary detective or psychological thriller and I found it incredibly fast paced and readable. I became carried away in the personal lives of the central protagonists as much as the more complex story arc regarding the Stasi and communism.
It's great to see the return of Karin Muller as Young takes us back to 1975, picking up a few months after the events from "Stasi Child". Things have changed for Muller; she is divorced and sidelined from the Murder Squad but it is not long before she finds herself working on a case that requires all her skill if she is to solve a crime that is intriguing, complicated and distressing.
Transferred to Halle-Neustadt, a new town which is the pride of the communist state, Muller needs to solve the mystery of a pair of missing infant twins. But the Stasi have forbidden them from publicising the disappearances and their restrictions threaten Muller's chances of ever uncovering the truth in the race against time to find the tiny, vulnerable victims.
Not only has Muller had to transfer to a town she doesn't really want to go to, she is also under the added pressure of surveillance:
"If you ever want to rise above the rank of Oberleutnant then you are going to have to say yes occasionally. You're going to have to take on jobs you might not particularly want to go......There can be no errors of judgement like last time. Your performance will be monitored closely - and as you can imagine, not solely by the People's Police."
Young's research is meticulous and the detail that has gone in to recreating the atmosphere, setting, physical and emotional details is massively impressive. The reader is so fully transported to this moment in time and completely buys into the whole setting. The characters are intimidating, fearsome and convincing. The issues and restrictions that affect the police work are well integrated into the story and the attitudes towards the communist state and the Stasi well captured through dialogue and the relationships between the characters. For me, someone who does not read a lot of fiction set in this political and social context, I was able to visualise, understand and follow this aspect of the novel which just goes to illustrate the strength of Young's writing.
In contrast to Muller's narrative and the police investigation, there is another voice interspersed between the chapters which is set in 1965. These were definitely my favourite sections. I loved the voice of Franziska and the unnerving behaviour of her partner Hansi. I am hugely impressed with Young's ability to capture such a chilling voice and weave such an unsettling story. This truly rivals passages from any contemporary thriller.
"Hansi gives me these little pills to prevent it. He's so clever. He works at the chemical factory ......And he does some work for the Ministry too - he's quite important. Sometimes he gets me to help with his official Ministry business. You know, if I see anything that doesn't look quite right. If anyone's acting oddly, and might need the authorities to help them."
As was "Stasi Child", this second instalment is also claustrophobic, graphic at times, dark, harrowing, distressing and yet compelling. There is a lot to keep track of, a lot of different threads from several different characters but Young manages them all competently and has produced a novel full of drama. There is quite a lot of switching backwards and forwards through time - relatively close periods of time - which did require concentration and at times I was a little worried about losing my place but I didn't.
I think what I enjoyed most about this crime novel was that as Young continues his series, we are learning more about the central protagonist Muller. She is a feisty, strong, intelligent woman and it was great to see more of her but also discover more about her backstory. It was also interesting to see her personal life actually becoming part of the central plot. I liked the fact that this book is a real mash up of historical drama, political drama, police procedural, crime and also include a very human angle exploring the emotional side of the characters and themes such as loss, grief, love and motherhood.
In the acknowledgements Young says his aim was to tell a cracking story. He does. It's a cracking story and an action packed read.
He says he tried to make his East German world authentic and honest. He does. I would agree that you might have to suspend belief a little bit but on the whole the novel is convincing.
Young also wanted to explore the backstory of Karin Muller as "it is the essence of the book. How the past impinges on, and defines, the present." I would say for me this was the most successful aspect of the novel and the bit I enjoyed the most.
His choice of East Germany in 1975 is really interesting. As Young says, it is the product of World War Two and "stood at the edge of two conflicting systems: capitalist and communist...." This lends itself to lots of potential about conflict, the past and the present and the unique bearing this has on the characters and the events in the novel.
I would recommend "Stasi Wolf". I think it is probably necessary to read "Stasi Child" first but they are both engaging and fast paced reads so it will not be difficult to catch up. I am eagerly awaiting the third and final instalment which is due in 2018 as it will be fascinating to see what happens to Muller now her life has changed yet again.
"Stasi Wolf" is published on 9th February 2017 by Zaffre.
My review of "Stasi Child" can be found here:
Bibliomaniac's Review of Stasi Child
David Young was born near Hull and – after dropping out of a Bristol University science degree - studied Humanities at Bristol Polytechnic specialising in Modern History. Temporary jobs cleaning ferry toilets and driving a butcher's van were followed by a career in journalism with provincial newspapers, a London news agency, and the BBC’s international newsrooms where he led news teams for the World Service radio and World TV.
David was a student on the inaugural Crime Thriller MA at City University – winning the course prize in 2014 for his debut novel Stasi Child – and now writes full-time in his garden shed. In his spare time, he’s a keen supporter of Hull City AFC.
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Or visit his blogspot on his novels:
Stasi Child Website
For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)