Stasi Child, David Young’s debut novel, is set in 1975, fourteen years after East Germany
erected the Berlin Wall, the “iron curtain” designed to stem the exodus of its population to the freedom of the West. To most of the world East Germany became a closed book, led by a secretive, repressive regime. Its most powerful weapon was fear.
Oberleutnant Karin Muller is the first female to be in put in charge of a team at the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo), East Germany’s civilian police investigative unit. She and her ambitious deputy, Werner Tilsner, are specifically directed by the Stasi to investigate the mutilated body of a teenage girl, found lying in the snow within sight of the Wall, apparently shot by Western border guards while escaping into the east. As the Stasi officer at the scene says: “It is, I admit, an unusual scenario.”
That, as they quickly discover, is an understatement. Right from the beginning nothing quite fits and it is soon apparent that this is a politically sensitive case one for which only a Stasi approved outcome would be acceptable. That makes it particularly dangerous for Muller. So why is her mentor Klaus Jager so intent on her digging to find he sees as the real truth?
In the opening chapters I was worried that Young was going to create Muller as a stereotype: the hard drinking, authority shaking female cop undermined by a well-connected deputy. However, Muller is, at heart, a serious cop. She begins teasing at the apparent evidence, gathering her own forensic proof, stretching the limits of her authority to follow her hunches and find reality amongst the Stasi’s smoke and mirrors.
Running alongside Muller’s investigation is a first-person narrative from a young girl incarcerated in a remote Jugendwerkhof, a brutal reform school for recalcitrant teenagers. What connection does the reformatory have to East Germany’s powerful elite, and to Muller’s own husband? The dual story line can be hazardous but he avoids the tendency for a neat soldering instead making them the vehicles for one of the fundamentals of the book: who can you trust?
Stasi Child is a bleak and challenging story of the mental and physical brutality of life within a totalitarian system, where mere survival (but also wealth and professional advancement) is a case of often-fundamental compromise. The carefully structured, intricate plot (you do need to pay attention) makes it a gripping and satisfying read. And he serves up a killer ending.
Stasi Girl by David Young is published by twenty7 and is the first of a three-novel series. It is the second police drama I’ve recently read from graduates of The London’s City University MA program in crime writing following the excellent The Dark Inside by Rod Reynolds. It bodes well for the rest of the class.