Stasi Winter | David Young

East Germany, 1979. The Deutsche Democratische Republic is gripped in one of the coldest winters on record with dangerously low temperatures, ice and snow – conditions where the death of a woman in a snowdrift might not be considered suspicious, but rather ruled as an unfortunate weather-related accident.

However, when Major Karin Müller and deputy Hauptmann Werner Tilsner of the Republic’s Serious Crimes Department are dispatched to investigate, a seemingly unfortunately accident turns into a murder investigation.

Even more suspicious is the murdered woman’s identity – Monika Richter, the deputy director of Jugendwerkhof Prora Ost, a reform school where Karin was tasked to solve a previous case.

Years after the war, industrial strife, strikes and general discontent still reigns in Eastern Germany. Families are divided by the wall and not allowed to travel across the border. After the war a new enemy of the people has emerged the Stasi or Ministerium für Staatsicherheit. The secret police agency still rules Eastern Germany with an iron fist and causes hate and fear amongst German citizens.

Major Karin Müller has no choice but to resign from the People’s Police due to these hostile circumstances. On top of her difficulty with the secret police, she also finds out that Tilsner, her partner, was an informant for the Stasi and belonged to the Hitler youth. Getting out isn’t as easy and out of sheer necessity and borderline blackmail from her nemesis, Stasi Colonel Klaus Jager, she has to abandon her plans to start teaching at the People’s Police college and continue risking her safety by working for the police.

Monika Richter’s murder and the potential involvement of Irma Behrendt with whom Karin crossed paths at Jugendwerkhof (also a returning character from Young’s first Stasi novel, Stasi Child) catapults Karin into a dangerous manhunt across the Ostsee in life-threatening conditions. Throughout she questions her own choices and the risk she puts on her own safety and subsequently that of her family, the two-and-a-half-year old twins Jannika and Johannes and Helga, their grandmother.

Stasi Winter is the third in the Karin Müller series and rumour has it, possibly the last? At least it ends in such a way that more of the series is possible and hopefully we have’t seen the last of Karin Müller yet. This was the first I’ve read of the series, but nonetheless it wasn’t difficult to keep track of the back story and it can easily read it as a standalone. Unfortunately you wouldn’t want to. Stasi Winter will pique your interest in this part of European history, in particular Cold War politics and the Stasi. It reminded me that political and social changes in Germany only took place fairly recently and provided insight into the social and emotional challenges it faced as a country.

On top of the historical content, Stasi Winter delivers a fast-paced, action packed crime thriller with plenty of nerve wracking close calls for our main heroine. Recommended both for history buffs and lovers of crime thrillers.

RATING: ****

Thank you to Zaffre Books for the review copy and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for organising the blog tour for Stasi Winter and inviting me to join.

About Stasi Winter

In 1978 East Germany, nothing is at it seems. The state’s power is absolute, history is re-written, and the ‘truth’ is whatever the Stasi say it is.

So when a woman’s murder is officially labelled ‘accidental death’, Major Karin Müller of the People’s Police is faced with a dilemma. To solve the crime, she must disregard the official version of events. But defying the Stasi means putting her own life – and the lives of her young family – in danger.

As the worst winter in living memory holds Germany in its freeze, Müller must untangle a web of state secrets and make a choice: between truth and lies, justice and injustice, and, ultimately, life and death.

About David Young

David Young was born near Hull and – after dropping out of a Bristol University science degree – studied Humanities at Bristol Polytechnic. Temporary jobs cleaning ferry toilets and driving a butcher’s van were followed by a career in journalism with provincial newspapers, a London news agency, and international radio and TV newsrooms. He now writes in his garden shed and in his spare time supports Hull City AFC. You can follow him on Twitter @djy_writer. Join David Young’s Readers’ Club for all the latest news from David on his books, events and giveaways: www.bit.ly/DavidYoungClub

Nudibranch | Irenosen Okojie

nudibranch/ˈnjuːdɪbraŋk/noun – a shell-less marine mollusc of the order Nudibranchia ; a sea slug. What this definition doesn’t tell you is that nudibranch are also known for their “often extraordinary colours and striking forms“. Nigerian author, Irenosen Okojie’s latest collection aptly titled Nudibranch are just as organic and colourful.

Consisting of fifteen stories, Nudibranch challenges its reader. The common thread which runs through these stories is the occurrence of some form of metamorphosis. Apart from this potential similarity, their topics and style vary widely. Here you’ll find time-travelling monks next to a sea goddess who feasts on eunuchs next to a Grace Jones impersonator.

Okojie pushes the borders of reality, crosses into surrealism and creates her own hyper-realism where it’s difficult and sometimes entirely impossible to keep track with what exactly is going on. For someone who prefers a clear, solid story this will be frustrating. For those who don’t mind not knowing exactly what’s going on and who purely enjoys words and language for its clever and beautiful usage, this collection will be a joy to read. Fans will be happy to hear that Okojie’s next book, Curandera, will also be published by Little Brown.

RATING: ***

Nudibranch is published by Little Brown. Thank you to South African publisher and local distributor, Jonathan Ball Publishers for this review copy.

The House of Brides | Jane Cockram

Calling all fans of the classic psychological suspense. Australian author, Jane Cockram, debuts with a hugely entertaining novel with plenty of the essentials needed for a riveting read: A family with secrets, an old, creepy, remote family home and a suspicious disappearance.

Welcome to Barnsley House, the century-old home of the Summers family and new home to Miranda, who is trying to escape from her looming failure as a lifestyle influencer and subsequent public humiliation.

Coincidentally Miranda is also the daughter of Tessa Summers, a branch off the old Summers family tree and author of a revealing book on the family and its women called The House of Brides. But before Miranda can reveal her identity she’s mistaken for the new nanny and sees it as the perfect opportunity to find out the truth behind her mother leaving the family under a dark cloud all those years ago.

Gradually Miranda learns the story of her grandmother, Beatrice’s death in a fire and tries to uncover the reason behind the disappearance of Daphne, the mother of the children she looks after and grows attached to.

Jane Cockram writes a gripping suspense novel with bucket-loads of atmosphere which will keep you wondering which character’s story to believe. In spite of The House of Brides being a psychological suspense novel, there are lighter moments which provide a welcome balance and makes for easy reading. Highly recommended and if this debut is anything to go by, I look forward to her future writing.

RATING: ****

The House of Brides is published by Harper Collins UK and this review copy was kindly provided to me by local, South African supplier, Jonathan Ball publishers.

Circus + The Skin | Keith McCleary

A circus, a tattooed man named Sue and a cast of weird and wonderful characters. What more could you want from a book? Throw in a storm which displaces these characters to a confined setting and some strange goings-on and you’re bound to be intrigued.

For all these reasons, as well as that striking pink cover, I was itching to read Keith McCleary’s Circus + The Skin. When, upon further investigation, I read about Mr McCleary’s background, I knew that this would not be a boring read. After all, the man has been involved in the creation of seven graphic novels and even this novel was initially intended as one. Fortunately it grew beyond the borders of a graphic novel and now we have this pink wonder to read.

If you like traditional story-lines with cookie-cutter characters, this might not appeal to you. But if you’re up for the challenge of reading a novel which is hard to define – part hard-boiled noir, part Western and part horror, Circus + The Skin won’t disappoint. And if you don’t believe me, look what these guys had to say:

“Keith McCleary writes like a hard-boiled Nick Cave, while the wandering spirits of Harry Crews and Katherine Dunn look on in grim whimsy. His fast-paced yet character-driven tale of geeks and lion-tamers, bendable women and sinister showmen, and an illustrated man named Sue who can never outrun his past–or his present–never flags. CIRCUS+THE SKIN is a high-wire act of the tender, the fierce, and the deeply macabre.”
–Adrian Van Young, author of Shadows in Summerland and The Man Who Noticed Everything

“An unflinching and lyrical tale of a circus at the end of an era and an illustrated man whose tattoos whisper beneath his skin. McCleary’s prose is as a fever dream told by Ray Bradbury to Cormac McCarthy—a love letter in blood and ink mapping our collective journey from Vietnam to Coney Island toward an American doom from which escape is just another word for nothing left to lose. An impressive and unsettling debut.” –JS Breukelaar, author of Aletheia and American Monster

“Step right up and take a gander at one of the strangest circus acts ever assembled. Keith McCleary writes with the brutality of a sledgehammer and the precision of a high-wire artist. The America he conjures up in this unforgettable carny noir is old and riddled with darkness. With style for days and prose that sings on the page, CIRCUS+THE SKIN is a show you don’t want to miss.”–Jim Ruland, author of Forest of Fortune

About the book

When a circus caravan is torn apart by a destructive summer storm, the show’s tattooed man and his fellow performers are scattered across the wheat fields of a nameless hamlet.  The tempest’s survivors convene at a local boarding house, but a series of violent attacks and strange deaths sabotage their attempts to regroup. 

The show’s tattooed man is Sue, a middle-aged, world-weary war veteran whose days are haunted by dark memories. At night his inks call to him, seemingly alive. As the circus strains to stay the course, Sue’s sense of reality begins to fragment — and something reaches for him from the recesses of his past.

RATING: ***

Circus + The Skin was published by Kraken Press and they kindly provided me with a review copy via NetGalley.

The German House | Annette Hess

German-Polish interpreter, Eva Bruhns, is living an undisturbed life with her parents in Frankfurt during the 1960s. She’s about to be engaged to an heir to a wealthy family business and will finally be able to escape the confines of her parent’s house, her brother and sister and the family restaurant, The German House. Shortly after her boyfriend, Jürgen, finally musters up the courage to ask Eva’s hand in marriage, she is hired to work at the Frankfurt trials and her future takes a turn.

What follows is a rendition of Eva’s realisation of the atrocities which took place less than twenty years ago during the Second World War. Together with the gruesome details of war crimes conducted by the Nazis, Eva also learns that her own parents have a connection to Auschwitz and she starts to question not only her fellow countrymen’s part in the genocide, but also the truth about her parents.

We’re introduced to the Bruhns family and their dedication to making a success of their restaurant through hard work. As Eva starts to ask questions about this hidden part of history, it becomes clear that her parents and sister will do anything to avoid answering her questions and are strongly against Eva’s involvement in the war criminal trials.

Eva’s family aren’t the only ones trying to keep her from uncovering the truth. Jürgen, her husband to be, highly disapproves of her working and would prefer a subservient housewife by his side, not a strong, independent woman. Considering she’s from a less affluent family with a restaurant on the poorer side of town also does not bode well for Eva’s prospects of marrying into a wealthy family.

Even though there has been quite an upsurge in fiction set in or related to the Second World War, particularly the role of Germany and the Nazis, The German House looks at this period in history from a fresh, more personal perspective. It shows that while history, in hindsight, might seem black and white, this isn’t necessarily the case and that when people and circumstances are taken into account, it’s much more complicated.The German House will provide you with a different perspective into a truly horrific part of our history.

RATING: ****

The German House is published by Harper Collins and this review copy was kindly supplied by them via NetGalley.