Just one or two of the multiple plot threads in this Cold War thriller, set in East Germany in the 1970s, could have created a gripping Iron Curtain conspiracy. The author obviously racked up heavy time with the history books and the text almost creaks at the seams with the strain of containing all the information.
The story and characters have to compete with acres of background colour, like Prora, the Nazi holiday camp, alongside nut-and-bolt technical details about the clanking cars of the average DDR comrade and the limousines used by party officials; followed by child collaborators who betrayed their families to the secret police; workhouses for teenage runaways; escape routes to the West for corrupt officials; depraved sex parties for the political elite; political prisoners making furniture in slave labour camps, then sold in the West; even under-age escapees being returned to the DDR by the West Berlin authorities. Never mind all the forensic information about the type of wool which comes from only one certain breed of sheep, and soil samples from mysterious mountains…
For most of the book, none of that lot makes any sense to policewoman Muller who is trying to investigate the murder of a girl found in the snow alongside the anti-fascist barrier in Berlin. Muller is reminiscent of Bernie Gunther in a way; an honest cop trying to solve crime for a state dictatorship he holds in scant regard… but while Bernie is credibly sceptical and frequently dangerously outspoken, Muller is naïve, credulous and easily manipulated to an extent that seemed unlikely even for a junior Kripo detective. Both she and her husband take what feel like ridiculous risks, given that she’s working at the behest of the Stasi, and as the story gets all the more convoluted and pulls in various episodes from her past, so it felt all the more artificial.
So this was a split experience for me. I enjoyed all the nitty-gritty East Berlin detail. The author has a fluid, easy going writing style which made it a rapid read. Some of the historical snippets were simply brilliant. The arrest and detention sequence, down to the stinking, cramped transport and the flashing lights in the cell, were artfully described so you could almost smell the accused’s pathetic, exhausted terror. But the pivotal villainous characters were just too evil-bad-guy for my liking, as was Muller’s feminine frailty – and the coincidence too far which dragged her into the investigation in the first place.
Less would have been more, I reckon. But Stasi Child was more than good enough for me to look out for the next novel from this author.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Stasi Child by David Young is available in multiple formats
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