Friday, October 23, 2015

Review of Stasi Child by David Young (twenty7, 2015)

East Berlin, 1974.  Oberleutnant Karin Müller is a detective in the murder squad of the GDR national police. Her marriage is disintegrating and she’s haunted by memories of being raped and the subsequent botched abortion.  When she’s ordered to investigate the death of a teenage girl found near to the Berlin Wall, she knows she’s heading into trouble.  The girl has been recently sexually assaulted, appears to have been escaping from the West to the East, and a high ranking Stasi detective is calling the shots.  He wants her to discover the girl’s identity, but not her killer.  In practice, investigating one means also trying to identify the other.  As she tries to determine who the girl might be it becomes obvious that others would prefer her to make little progress.  In a country where it’s not clear who’s a state agent and a wrong move can make you an enemy of the state, Müller tries to steer a course through murky waters, determined to solve the case and stay alive.

Stasi Child captures well the paranoia, fear and complex power games of the GDR, conveying the sense that even those working in the police and security services, who were most able to abuse their positions, were fearful of how the system could eat its own.  Young illustrates this by entwining two parallel storylines: the first told in the third tense and is set in the present follows Oberleutnant Karin Müller, a young detective who despite her own woes still believes in the ideals of the GDR, who is ordered by the Stasi to identify a teenager whose murder has been staged to look like she was killed trying to flee from the West; the second, told in the first person and set some months earlier charts the harsh regime suffered by Irma Behrendt in a youth detention centre.  Both characters and storylines are compelling, though I initially struggled with the first person tense of the latter.  The tale is atmospheric and plot intriguing.  However, its realism started to waiver as it built towards its denouement, which felt overplayed; both in terms of the wrap-up, but also in the personal ties between the threads -- and the carefully layered police procedural gave way to a thriller.  The final scenes, however, pack a powerful punch.

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