Category Archives: Crime

The historical inspiration for Stasi 77 – guest post by David Young

Stasi 77 by David YoungDavid Young’s latest novel, Stasi 77, was published by Zaffre on 18 April and it’s an absolute corker! It’s the fourth in a series set in 1970s’ East Berlin and East Germany which features police detective Major Karin Müller. I’ve loved all of them but I think that Stasi 77 is my favourite. It’s also the darkest, as the post below indicates. You can read my review here. To celebrate the publication, I’m delighted to present for the blog tour such a fascinating guest post by David Young in which he discusses the novel’s historical background.

The historical inspiration for Stasi 77

The clue to the year my latest novel is set in, is given in the title. Stasi 77 takes place in communist East Germany in 1977. But that’s true only up to a point – a lot of the action, and the real-life inspiration for the book, is from 32 years earlier. In the case of my protagonist, Major Karin Müller, that’s a whole lifetime ago – the year she was conceived.

What I’ve tried to do is explore the lasting effects of the Second World War on the East German state – a country that actually emerged from the aftermath of the war, and the division of a defeated Nazi Germany into zones of occupation. The Soviet zone was transformed in October 1949 into the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, the German Democratic Republic – a new socialist state, but still very much at Moscow’s beck and call.

The inspiration for Stasi 77 came from a Nazi massacre – sometimes considered the worst or most senseless single-day massacre they committed – which took place in the final weeks of the war, on what was later to become East German soil. You can easily find it on the internet although I’m not mentioning its name here, and in the book I’ve deliberately placed a dedication and maps from the time amongst the back matter to try to avoid spoilers.

That’s because I’ve moved slightly out of my comfort zone, and based my sub-narrative – through the eyes of a French slave labourer for the Nazis – very much on real-life events. Everything that happens to my fictional French character up until the point of the massacre, really happened to the labour camp prisoners – although it’s an amalgamation of first and second-hand accounts of different victims and survivors.

Where the fiction starts is in my extrapolation: what would happen if one of the survivors of the massacre (and there only were a handful) came back to what had become East Germany to wreak his revenge?

So my 1977 police case, led by Volkspolizei Serious Crimes Department head Karin Müller and her deputy Werner Tilsner, is pure fiction, bolted onto thinly-disguised fact.

I thought long and hard about the ethics of this. Should you create what is meant to be commercial fiction out of a horrific real-life event? In the end, I concluded that anything that serves to raise the profile of the massacre and its memorial site must be a good thing. If I’m wrong, I apologise.

The other thing I was interested in was what happened to Nazis in East Germany. The socialist state was avowedly ‘anti-fascist’: the Berlin Wall was even officially called ‘The Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart’ (or Barrier). A euphemism, of course, and few if any of the GDR’s citizens really believed it existed to keep fascists out, rather than imprison the state’s own population.

But did members of the Nazi party just disappear into thin air in the east, or become communists overnight? In Stasi 77, some of my Nazis become members of the East German secret police, the Stasi. And despite the fictional nature of the 1970s end of the story, the idea of Nazis being recruited in this way is rooted in reality. For example, Der Spiegel in 2014 published research about Auschwitz SS guard Josef Settnik and how the Stasi made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: his past in the SS would be forgotten if he cooperated with the Ministry for State Security and spied on members of his own Catholic community. There are several other examples. The article quotes Henry Leide of the Rostock branch of the Federal Commissioner for the documents of the State Security Service of the GDR as saying: ‘Nazi perpetrators had a great opportunity in the GDR to get away scot-free if they behaved inconspicuously or cooperated.’

At the end of the day, though, the novel is a piece of fiction. It’s also meant to be entertainment, despite its sometimes grim contents. My hope is that if readers are moved by it, they might seek out the real history for themselves. Or indeed include the Memorial at the massacre site on any trips to Germany, in order to pay their respects to the dead.

In these difficult political times in the UK, history is an excellent tutor of what can happen if intolerance, xenophobia and hatred are allowed to flourish.

Reviews
Stasi Child
Stasi Wolf
A Darker State
Stasi 77

For other stops on the tour, please do take a look at the poster below.

Stasi Blog Tour Graphic

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No Way Out by Cara Hunter

Penguin | 2019 (18 April) | 362p | Review copy | Buy the book

No Way Out by Cara HunterIt is the Christmas holidays when two children are pulled from their burning home in north Oxford. The toddler is dead while his older brother is fighting for his life. The parents are missing. The father, an academic at Oxford University, is supposed to be in London presenting a lecture at a conference. He doesn’t show up and he’s not answering his phone. The mother is nowhere to be seen. The Esmond family seemed the perfect family but who knows what could have gone on behind closed doors? What could have gone so wrong? With theories and rumours more numerous than facts, DI Adam Fawley and his team have a struggle on their hands to uncover the truth. One thing is soon apparent – this was no accident.

No Way Out is the third novel by Cara Hunter to feature DI Adam Fawley but it’s the first I’ve read. There is a great deal going on in Fawley’s life, which means he’s emotionally distanced from the case, leaving much of it to his sergeants and constables. This would possibly mean more to readers who have read the previous two books but it didn’t affect my reading at all. It’s clear what’s going on. It did make me want to re-read the earlier books, though. There are little teasers about this – after all, the books are set in the small world of Oxford, where past crimes are not easily forgotten – but there’s nothing to spoil what’s happened before. But I’m intrigued!

As somebody new to the series, I found Adam Fawley rather hard to warm to but I think that’s because he’s so distracted by his troubled personal life. By contrast, I immediately fell for his team and we spend time with most of them as they do most of the work. The case is a terrible one with these poor children and it gets under their skin. They want to do what’s right by these young boys. Intensifying our empathy for what has happened, throughout the novel we spend time in the past with the Esmond family, getting to know them, as the days count down to the fire. It’s very effectively done.

I really enjoyed the way in which Cara Hunter inserts numerous reports, interviews, newspaper stories and so on, into the narrative. It adds an immediacy and also makes it feel very real and authentic. More than once characters are reminded that this is real life, not fiction – that this isn’t Inspector Morse. Although, the reader is bound to make parallels, especially as No Way Out features University academics and is set in leafy north Oxford. Despite this, there is a grittiness to the book and it feels like a genuine police investigation, with everybody doing their set jobs. This is a team effort and full of little details that keep the reader hooked.

I have to say something about the location because I know north Oxford extremely well indeed. I was worried about reading a novel set there but Cara Hunter does a good job, combining authentic places and names with imaginary streets. I wasn’t expecting No Way Out to come quite as close to home as it actually did! I almost dropped the book at one point in shock! But, otherwise, it was a lot of fun seeing places I know on the page and being able to recognise them.

I think that No Way Out is an excellent police procedural. It’s gripping and twisty but it doesn’t feel gimmicky or out to shock. It’s very well written and its setting in Oxford shows that there is still much more crime to be committed and solved in this small city! I’ll definitely be reading more.

I’m delighted to post this review as part of the Blog Tour. For other stops on the tour, please do take a look at the poster below.

No Way Out blog tour

Stasi 77 by David Young

Zaffre | 2019 (18 April) | 377p | Review copy | Buy the book

Stasi 77 by David YoungEast German police detective Major Karin Müller is enjoying a rare holiday beside the Black Sea with her grandmother and her little twins when she is urgently called back to East Berlin. A senior official in the secret police, the Stasi, has been murdered, killed by fire. Müller and her partner Tilsner search for the reasons for the murder in the dead man’s past but it’s soon clear that the Stasi will not allow her to ask the questions she must. She is removed from the case. And then another important and influential man is killed in a fire. When Müller digs into this one, she comes up against the Stasi once more. This is a pattern that can only lead to trouble.

It doesn’t help that Tilsner seems disinterested and distracted. He’s blaming it on personal problems but Karin’s not so sure. Despite their closeness, she’s had reason to suspect his loyalty before. She’s now convinced that he’s not to be trusted. More than ever before, Karin feels alone as she strives to discover the truth but what she reveals, at great personal risk to herself, is more shocking and terrible than she could have ever imagined. And somebody wants these secrets to stay dead, whatever the cost.

Stasi 77 is the fourth novel by David Young to feature the investigations of Karin Müller, a detective in the East German People’s Police during the 1970s. I’ve loved each one of these books but Stasi 77 is, I think, nigh on perfect. It is certainly my favourite of the four and is a novel that the author should be very proud of.

The book immerses the reader in this communist East German world, with its expectations and disappointments, its pride and confidence, its cars and bad coffee, its nights illicitly spent in front of the latest West German drama on the TV, the nosiness of spies absolutely everywhere, the interference of the State. David Young knows this world inside out. This is historical fiction (as well as crime fiction) of the highest order. It might be only forty years ago but this is a foreign place for sure and all of the little details build up the novel’s strong sense of authenticity. He has also created a thoroughly believable main character in Karin Müller. She genuinely believes in this Soviet-led socialist society even though she, more than almost anyone, is exposed to its failings. Karin holds on to the ideal, where every person has their place and is looked after, with everyone working for the benefit of others. She’s even prepared to put up with the Stasi. But that might be about to change. Karin’s relationship with the Stasi is fascinating as characters emerge from the shadows with ominous regularity, only then to fade away once more. But how can she put up with this, particularly when her own children become pawns in their game? It is absolutely fascinating.

But there’s another world that rears its monstrous head in Stasi 77 and that’s the country’s Nazi past. A wartime tale threads its way through the narrative. Atrocities are committed and suffered. They must not be forgotten. There are some harrowing scenes in Stasi 77 but they are very sensitively portrayed. They're all the more shocking because much of it is based on real events. The author will be writing about this in a guest post on For Winter Nights in a day or two. I urge you to read the novel to learn more.

I've become very fond of Karin Müller through these novels and in Stasi 77 she demands genuine respect and admiration for her dogged pursuit of the truth. The way that she has to combine career with motherhood is a key theme. Fortunately, she has an incredible, long-suffering grandmother to help out. We see how much of what Karin has is dependent on her job, including her apartment. She could lose everything at any time. Karin’s used to looking over her shoulder, searching for her Stasi shadow. They’re there more than ever in Stasi 77 and it’s time for us to learn much more about those in their pay. Müller will have to re-examine many of the relationships in her life.

Stasi 77 is undoubtedly the darkest of the four novels but it is, in my opinion, the best so far. I could not put it down. You might get more from it if you’ve read the previous novels – and I’d certainly suggest that you do – but this novel stands alone very well. It’s striking, powerful and embedded in its historical setting and place. It will be very interesting indeed to see where Karin Müller can go from here.

Other reviews
Stasi Child
Stasi Wolf
A Darker State

Cruel Acts by Jane Casey

HarperCollins | 2019 (18 April) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book

Cruel Acts by Jane CaseyLeo Stone was sentenced to life for the murder of two women but now, just a year later, he is about to be released ahead of a retrial after a juror’s prejudice was revealed. Doubt has also fallen on the findings of the pathologist who has since died. DS Maeve Kerrigan and DI Josh Derwent are given the task of reinvestigating the evidence, to make it safe, to ensure that when Leo Stone is next put away it will be for good. But Stone is now on the streets again and when another woman goes missing it’s hard not to jump to conclusions. There is also another woman who vanished some years before and Kerrigan is convinced that she is also part of the original case. This young woman has never received justice. Kerrigan will not rest until she can give it. But she can’t help the feeling that she has doubts. Might they have got it wrong after all? Could Leo Stone be an innocent man?

Cruel Acts is the eighth novel to feature Kerrigan and Derwent and what a pair they are! I love the mysteries in these novels but there is no doubt that the stars of the series are these two sparring detectives. Their relationship fairly sizzles on occasion but there is as much hate as there is love. In fact, Kerrigan would insist there’s no love at all. And yet the two have knotted their lives together in so many ways while each has his or her own relationships. In fact, Derwent can’t help poking his nose into Kerrigan’s lovelife, trying to push it along, and this drives Kerrigan mad.

I love reading about these two and it’s helped along by Jane Casey’s fantastic writing. Kerrigan’s first person narrative, which is mixed with a third person narration in other parts of the novel, is superb. It’s witty and prickly. Kerrigan is frustrating at times, just as Derwent can be annoying and bullish, but she is so easy to empathise with. These two are a lot of fun to read about. Their strange relationship is clear quite early on in the book and so I think you could quite easily enjoy Cruel Acts without having read the others.

The mystery revealed in Cruel Acts is fantastic. Jane Casey always comes up with such brilliant murder mysteries and she’s done it again here. It is a serial killer crime but there’s a bit more to it than that. You know that this isn’t going to be straightforward and it isn’t, but it’s certainly menacing, sinister, frightening, and unexpected. I had my money on quite a few different suspects. I do like a crime novel that keeps me guessing. I would have thought, though, that by now Kerrigan would have a better idea how to keep herself out of trouble…

The ‘cruel acts’ of the title give this novel its menace and tension, and a very real sense of evil. Some of this book made my skin crawl. I also liked Kerrigan’s commitment to find justice for the poor girl who vanished. We meet the victims’ families and it’s painful to see how each family deals with their grief in different ways. This is powerful stuff. This series has such a warmth to it – and how could it not when it has Kerrigan and Derwent in it to give it its heart? I long for more.

Other reviews
After the Fire
Let the Dead Speak

The King’s Evil by Andrew Taylor

HarperCollins | 2019 (4 April) | 464p | Review copy | Buy the book

The King's Evil by Andrew TaylorIt is 1667 and the court of Charles II is rife with intrigue, political rivalry and scandal. The king is also without legitimate children and that isn’t helping matters as rival noble factions scramble for influence. The Duke of Clarendon is on the way out, despite being the father-in-law of the Duke of York, the king’s brother and heir. Clarendon is being bested by another of the court’s troublesome dukes, of Buckingham, and even though Buckingham has some bad form in his past (he negotiated his own personal peace with Oliver Cromwell), he knows how to entertain the fickle king. Buckingham’s star looks set to rise even higher when a corpse is found in the well in the grounds of Clarendon’s brand new monstrously lavish and enormous mansion in the heart of London. The government investigator James Marwood is sent to look into the business and to cover it up. But the identity of the dead man is going to cause Marwood all kinds of problems.

The dead man is none other than Edward Alderley, the cousin of Cat Lovett, a woman who has played a key role in Marwood’s earlier investigations. Cat had every reason to want Alderley dead and Marwood isn’t the only person to know this. And now, only hours after she threatened him, Alderley is dead and Cat is the chief suspect. Marwood has been told to prove her guilt but he, however, is intent on proving her innocence. But in Charles II’s decadent London, can anyone be truly innocent?

The King’s Evil is the third novel in Andrew Taylor’s brilliant series featuring James Marwood, the son of a traitor. Each of the novels (beginning with The Ashes of London and continuing with The Fire Court) stands alone very well but if you read them in order then you will have the added treat of following the story of Marwood and Cat from its beginning in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London. What’s clear, though, is that this is a series that goes from strength to strength.

The plot of The King’s Evil is excellent and, as is usual with these novels, is as much about the court of Charles II as it is about a murder. Marwood is a fantastic creation who, as we saw in the previous novels, has suffered a great deal. He’s trapped in the middle of a political situation from which he has no way out due to his treacherous father. He’s our perfect witness to all sides of the political games being played in this glamorous and yet grotesquely ugly court. Everyone remembers the gloom and danger of the Commonwealth and the king’s time in exile, but the moral corruption of the Restoration has proved equally dismal to many. Marwood stands apart. What he can do, though, is try and do the right thing by Cat, whose past is equally stained. But there are distractions lying in wait.

I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of 1660s’ London, especially the Duke of Clarendon’s extraordinary and unwise palace in Piccadilly. Andrew Taylor is so good at bringing past streets and places to life and when I read one of his books I immediately go away and do some more research on what he has revealed. It’s fascinating. The courtiers are as ugly as their king – who is a strange creature indeed – but they are mesmerising.

Having said all that, the people that we get to know the most in The King’s Evil aren’t the courtiers but those who serve them. The little slave boy Stephen is a child I won’t forget in a hurry. It’s through him that we get to learn a bit more about what it is that gives this book its extremely appropriate and effective title. There is something melodramatic about the case itself – Edward Alderley does the job of stage villain very well – but this fits so well with the theatricality of London society at this time. Everything is hidden below the wigs and glorious frocks and waistcoats. Here we see the truth and it’s certainly entertaining.

I am thoroughly enjoying this series, which does such a fine job of immersing the reader in a London that is being rebuilt after the Great Fire. It’s recognisable in some ways and very different in others. And walking through its streets, or rowing a boat along its river, are some extraordinary figures. James Marwood is an excellent main character. At times he seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders as he stands almost alone and isolated. But the way in which he clings to interest, to life in London, to his friendship with Cat and other vulnerable people, is compelling to read about. I look forward to spending more time with him.

Other reviews
The Ashes of London
The Fire Court

Dead Man’s Daughter by Roz Watkins

HQ | 2019 (4 April) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

Dead Man's Daughter by Roz WatkinsA ten-year old girl is caught running through the woods in the Peaks, heading towards the gorge Dead Girl’s Drop. She is in her nightdress and it’s covered in blood. She tells DI Meg Dalton that her name is Abbie and she lives in Bellhurst House, an intimidating, frightening Victorian Gothic house. It’s almost no surprise that Meg should find in a house such as this the body of a man, Abbie’s father, his throat cut. It looks like the work of an intruder but, as Meg dips deeper into this disturbing case, she learns that both Abbie and her father had heart transplants and Abbie is having nightmares which she believes are based on events in the life of her donor. Can this be connected to the murder? The truth could be more shocking than Meg could ever have suspected.

When I read The Devil’s Dice, Roz Watkins’ debut novel and our introduction to Meg Dalton, I knew that this was the beginning of something special and Dead Man’s Daughter is every bit as good. I love everything about these books so it’s not easy knowing where to start but a good place might be with Roz Watkins’ writing, which is fabulous. The author writes with such confidence, naturalness and wit that the characters and their world seems entirely believable and it makes the reader want to be involved. There are lines here that made me laugh out loud. Meg is our narrator and she’s a lovely person. She’s self-deprecating, very funny and she’s so caring and engaged with the world around her.

Meg Dalton is a triumph and the poor woman has much to contend with here in the rather unpleasant shape of her sergeant, Craig. This man is just not as capable as Meg, or indeed anyone else, and he hates the fact and, as a result, also hates Meg. The rest of Meg’s team, such as Jai, returns and they give Meg all the support she needs but, with Craig, they have an awful lot to put up with. Hard as it is for them, it’s very entertaining for us. I really enjoyed this non-relationship. Meg deserves a medal… Meg’s past isn’t about to go away and it haunts her here, but not in a way that dominates her character or the novel. But there is one aspect of her private life that is deeply moving and plays a significant role here and I love the way in which Roz Watkins handles it with such deep care. How could you not love Meg Dalton?

The story is fantastic. This is a perfect and genuine whodunnit in my opinion. There are plenty of red herrings and there is also that sense of something otherworldly and strange. There’s a feeling that anything might be possible and so the reader should just sit back and enjoy it. We are in an expert’s hands here.

I cannot praise Dead Man’s Daughter enough. I loved every page of it. I love the setting in the Peak District, always a favourite location of mine. I love the characters and I was completely immersed in the mystery. Above all else, I adore Meg Dalton. She knows how to make me laugh and she knows how to bring me to the edge of my seat. I really hope this series runs and runs because it is definitely one of the best and Meg Dalton is right up there with my favourites along with Roberta Steele, Logan McRae, Marnie Rome, Tony McLean, Kim Stone, Ruth Galloway, Kate Daniels and Ben Cooper. This is an exclusive club and Meg Dalton definitely belongs in it. I can’t wait for book three.

Other review
The Devil’s Dice

I’m delighted to kick off the Blog Tour with my review. For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.

Dead Man's Daughter blog tour

The Neighbour by Fiona Cummins

Macmillan | 2019 (4 April) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Neighbour by FIona CumminsWhen the Lockwoods move into 25 The Avenue one hot summer it’s not long before they regret it. Not long at all. It’s barely hours before The Avenue is disturbed by the arrival of the police. The serial killer nicknamed The Doll Keeper has claimed another victim, found right next to The Avenue, and this one is of particular significance to the detectives investigating the case. The arrival of the new family is a welcome distraction to their neighbours who have had a great deal to contend with. But this is a street full of twitching curtains, binoculars and cameras, inquisitive eyes. Is there anybody who lives in The Avenue without something to hide? The Lockwoods are about to get a lesson in life in The Avenue.

The Neighbour is without doubt one of the most atmospherically menacing and sinister novels that I’ve read in quite some time. In fact, quite possibly since I read Fiona Cummins’ other fantastic books, Rattle and The Collector. Here is an author who not only writes and plots brilliantly, but she also knows how to get under our skin and into our brains, until the reader is left a shivering wreck. I read The Neighbour at night by lamplight. I read other things in the daytime. The Neighbour is a book that belongs to the night.

I don’t want to give anything away about the plot because it is so rewardingly complex, with one thing leading to another, and the slightest thing might spoil it. It’s best to go into The Neighbour cold. It won’t be long before you’re sucked into its mood and you’re engrossed by the author’s storytelling powers.

The characters are many and they are each so vividly painted. The interactions between them are drawn so beautifully. Everyone sparks off somebody else. Everybody watches or is watched – or both. The Lockwoods have to find their place and it’s so hard to look away.

And so all I can do is urge you to turn down the lights and curl up with quite possibly the most atmospheric tale of murder we will encounter in 2019. This isn’t about blood or gore, although you’ll certainly encounter scenes that may make your skin crawl, it’s about a mood and a place, and those cursed to live there. It is excellent.

Other reviews
Rattle
The Collector