For those brought up a generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the word ‘Stasi’ may not conjure up the same cold chill.
Stasi is the acronym for the former East Germany’s much-feared official state security service, a notoriously ruthless organisation which used informants to spy on its own population and which has been described as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies ever created.
The effect on the country’s people was a climate of constant fear and paranoia, a world that is hard to imagine today… but it’s one that has been brought to vivid life by author David Young in his prize-winning Karin Müller police series set in the 1970s.
Young’s aim was to show what life was like ‘on the other side of the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart: the German Democratic Republic’s favourite term for the Berlin Wall’ and these gripping, immaculately researched thrillers are about as close as you can get to East Berlin in the dark days of the Cold War.
A Darker State follows on from Stasi Child and Stasi Wolf and again stars Oberleutnant Karin Müller, head of the murder squad with the People’s Police and a young woman whose socialist ideals are gradually being eroded by the interference and unpalatable methods of the Stasi.
Müller is currently enjoying a spell of maternity leave with her six-month-old twins, the miracle babies doctors told her she would never be able to have. But now her boss has made her an offer she can’t refuse.
By accepting an instant rank promotion to Major and returning to work immediately as head of a new Serious Crimes Department, Müller gets a gleaming and extra roomy sixth floor apartment in a smart quarter of the city.
The chief drawback for Müller is that she will be overseeing murder investigations that could ‘prove embarrassing to the Republic,’ and consequently she will be forced into an uncomfortably close working relationship with Oberst Jäger, the suave, good-looking Stasi colonel known as a manipulator, a string puller and ‘a man to fear.’
With the Stasi now watching her every move, Müller and her deputy Werner Tilsner are dispatched to investigate the body of a teenage boy which has been found weighted down in a lake near the border with Poland.
The boy had been sadistically murdered before his body was dumped and when Markus Schmidt, the son of Müller’s forensic officer, goes missing, it quickly becomes clear that there is a terrifying conspiracy at the heart of this case, one that could put Müller and her young family in real danger.
Under the unforgiving gaze of the Stasi, she will have to navigate a complex political web whilst undertaking a perilous hunt to find the missing boy…
In line with the book’s title, this new case for the increasingly sceptical Karin Müller moves into darker territory as our intrepid police officer is drawn ever closer to the shadowy world of the Stasi and Cold War politics.
Young portrays the paranoid landscape of East Germany’s surveillance state with such breathtaking detail and authenticity that we can almost taste the fear, feel the chill, and see the grandeur of Berlin’s ostentatious Karl-Marx-Allee jostling with the crumbling, soulless apartment blocks that litter the city.
But the beating heart of this multi-layered story is the plucky, determined Karin, and an enthralling police procedural, a murder mystery which takes in aspects of real history and weaves them into an intriguing case that involves a terrifying web of deception, obstruction and corruption.
As always, Young fleshes out each of his characters with perfect precision and although the books are part of a series, each one can easily be read as a riveting standalone.
Powerful, fast-paced and exciting, the Karin Müller series just gets better and better…
(Zaffre, paperback, £7.99)