The body of a teenage boy is found weighted down in a lake. Karin Müller, newly appointed Major of the People’s Police, is called to investigate. But her power will only stretch so far, when every move she makes is under the watchful eye of the Stasi.
Then, when the son of Müller’s team member goes missing, it quickly becomes clear that there is a terrifying conspiracy at the heart of this case, one that could fast lead Müller and her young family into real danger.
Can she navigate this complex political web and find the missing boy, before it’s too late?
Eyes down and here we go everybody for the next instalment of David Young’s gripping series set in 1970s East Germany, placing us at the heart of Cold War fear and suspicion. Following on from Stasi Child and Stasi Wolf the book opens with a new home, a seemingly settled family life, and an unexpected promotion for Oberletnant Karin Müller, and yet a creeping feeling of unease as to just what the payback for these rewards will be…
Although I experienced a little dip in my perception of Müller in the previous book, she is back on fine form in this one, despite the pressure she comes under in both her personal and professional life. There’s a good balance between the doubt and self questioning she experiences as a new mother, and in her supposedly solid relationship with her partner Emil, set against her day to day trials and tribulations in a particularly knotty investigation, under the unwavering eye of the sinister Stasi. It is the latter element in her life that really brings her character to life, as she has to out-think and pre-empt the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, sabotage of her investigation, at times putting her in extreme physical danger, but never once denting her sense of morality and focus to get the job done. Reunited with her right hand man, and sometime lover, Werner Tilsner, Young is given the opportunity to not only show the solidity of their professional partnership, but to also insert some moments of lighter, teasing humour into the proceedings. Likewise, Müller’s interactions with slippery Stasi man Jager, whose presence adds another frisson to the investigation, also allows her to show us her steely determination, and her ability to use and manipulate him as much as he does her. Although he does have one particular revelation to foist on her at the close of the book that neither she, nor us, would entirely expect…
As we have come to expect from the two preceding books, Young does not stint on the historical, political and social detail attendant to this period of German history. Not only do we become fully conversant with the ramifications for the individual living in the grip of Communist rule, but also the differences in existence between two halves of the same nation. Interestingly, there are small freedoms that those in the supposedly more totalitarian east experience, and Young also contrasts the feelings of acceptance and pride that some hold, as a juxtaposition to those who feel trapped and surveilled at every turn. The book is absolutely brimming with research, applied in such a way as to not outweigh the natural flow of the plot, but enough to give the reader an inherent feeling of time and place. With a surprising, and unsettling, premise for the murders that occur, Young inveigles us in an underground world of sexual intolerance, and blackmail that is truly disturbing, and one cannot help but feel supremely sorry for the victims of these heinous crimes. I enjoyed the split narrative and timelines, and as the story segued between the two, Young once again showed his knack for pace and tension building. I remember reading somewhere that good authors always write the kind of books that they themselves would like to read , and with Young’s balance of fiction and fact, coupled with a genuinely compelling and exciting plot, I think in this case he has written as a reader and not just a churn-‘ em-out writer that the crime genre is sadly littered with.
Although there is a danger in coming into a series part way through. I think A Darker State actually works extremely well as a stand alone for those late to the party. With a nifty tie up with a certain event in the first book, there is ample opportunity to go back to the beginning before the next book appears. Definitely a series that I have enjoyed, and with an overview of all three books, this has been my favourite to date. Highly recommended and bring on book 4!
(With thanks to Bonnier Zaffre for the ARC)
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