Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review of Stasi Wolf by David Young (Zaffre, 2017)

East Germany, 1975. In the model new town of Halle-Neustadt twins have been snatched from their parents.  A short time later the baby boy is found dead in a suitcase thrown from a train.  Detective Karin Müller is transferred from Berlin to take over the case.  However, she is prevented from running a normal investigation by the local Stasi office who do not the reputation of a flagship development to be sullied by the abduction or the locals to panic.  Instead, Müller must find creative ways to try and quietly search for the missing baby girl.  The case also reminds Müller of her own aborted twins and raises questions about her own background.  Despite her best efforts, the investigation grinds almost to a halt, then the child snatcher strikes again.  Müller and her team are under pressure to find the culprit and rescue a second child but within the silencing parameters dictated by the Stasi.

Stasi Wolf is the second book in the Karin Müller series set in East Germany in the 1970s.  The premise of trying to find a child abductor in a police state where the Stasi do not want the crime to be publicly known was an interesting one.  However, while there is plenty going on in the plot, with a plethora of feints and turns, there is also too many niggles in the storyline.  For example, there was too much coincidence and telegraphing with respect to Karin’s personal life and history, too much coincidence in the links between Karin and other key characters, and the setup for the denouement was highly staged and fanciful in all aspects.  A key part of the plot premise also felt too contrived - I could see no logical reason why Karin would be bought in to investigate the case other than as a plot device – the same ends would have been achieved by the manipulator by just using the local police force, which is precisely what Karin does.  What keeps the book interesting is a glimpse into East Germany in the 1970s and its social relations and paranoia and resistance, which was nicely done, and the character of Karin Müller, who is determined to succeed as a murder detective despite widespread misogyny and difficult internal politics.  These pluses however are not sufficient to paper over the plotting issues, which is a shame as the series and character that has a lot of potential.

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