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.
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