Friday, 17 February 2017

Stasi Wolf by David Young 
Series: The Oberleutnant Karin Müller series
Release Date: 9th February 2017
Publisher: Zaffre
Genres: Mystery / Thriller /Suspense

How do you solve a murder when you can't ask any questions? The gripping new thriller from the bestselling author of Stasi Child.

East Germany, 1975. Karin Müller, sidelined from the murder squad in Berlin, jumps at the chance to be sent south to Halle-Neustadt, where a pair of infant twins have gone missing.

But Müller soon finds her problems have followed her. Halle-Neustadt is a new town - the pride of the communist state - and she and her team are forbidden by the Stasi from publicising the disappearances, lest they tarnish the town's flawless image.

Meanwhile, in the eerily nameless streets and tower blocks, a child snatcher lurks, and the clock is ticking to rescue the twins alive . 


Halle-Neustadt – where the streets had no names – the setting for Stasi Wolf

Halle-Neustadt – a brand new city for chemical workers constructed to the west of Halle in the late 1960s and 1970s – was supposed to represent everything that was good about East Germany.

Citizens housed there had brand new flats, with luxuries like private bathrooms and toilets – things that at that time weren’t always found in the communist country’s older, decaying, war-damaged apartment blocks.

The city was constructed in a series of Wohnkomplexe – or residential areas – each one containing several often identical blocks of apartments.  The blocks were constructed quickly using a technique which saw prefabricated concrete slabs joined together, lifted into place by giant cranes. The downside was that rain often leaked into the apartments when the wind was blowing the wrong way.

What was peculiar was that Halle-Neustadt – or Ha-Neu as it was known to the locals, the pronunciation exactly like that of the Vietnamese capital – didn’t have street names. Addresses were instead a complex and slightly illogical series of numbers based loosely on the Residential Area number, and block number.

Actually that’s not quite true. A handful of streets were named – although in my novel Stasi Wolf, I’ve chosen to retain the name of just one – the central boulevard, or Magistrale.

In Stasi Wolf, Müller at first finds Ha-Neu a forbidding place, her confusion at the numbering system of addresses adding to her feelings of dislocation and paranoia, having been banished there from her adopted home of East Berlin.

I first visited on a research trip for my debut, Stasi Child. I wanted to visit Torgau, near Leipzig, to learn more about the GDR’s hated Jugendwerkhofe – the re-eudcation workcamps for youths considered to have strayed from the socialist path, the most severe of which was at Torgau.

On the way to the Harz mountains – where the climax of Stasi Child is set – I stopped off in Ha-Neu, and spent an hour or so touring the residential blocks. I realised it would make a fantastic setting for a crime novel.

Once home to nearly a hundred-thousand residents, today the population has dropped to less than forty-thousand – and many of the apartments lie empty and condemned. Some though have been renovated, and in a thriving shopping centre it was interesting to note that in the sole bookshop Morden in Norden – the German version of Nordic Noir – seemed to be all the rage.

Halle-Neustadt – like many East German housing estates – was never properly finished. The apartment blocks rose from the ground so quickly that the areas between, which were supposed to be verdant oases, were often little more than mudfields, with citizens having to pick their way along duckboards to avoid sinking into the mess.

Nowadays the greenery has grown up, and the once-feared Stasi regional HQ on its north-eastern edge lies empty and decaying.

Despite the ever-present Stasi, many of those you talk to who lived in Ha-Neu have happy memories of their childhoods. A sense of community, kindergartens nearby, childcare that was often the envy of the west (a much higher percentage of East German women were in work at the time Stasi Wolf is set than in western, capitalist states).

Nowadays, you get the feeling that the authorities in Halle are doing the best they can to make living conditions tolerable for those who remain in this relic of East Germany.

In Halle-Neustadt’s pomp, colourful mosaics depicting great socialist deeds would have sparkled in the summer sun, as fountains adorned with socialist statues pumped out plumes of water.

Nowadays those fountains are dry. The city authorities cannot afford to run them.


David Young was a journalist for more than 25 years with BBC World radio and TV. Now a full-time author, his debut novel Stasi Child, was a print and ebook bestseller, selling more than 60,000 copies in all formats. The novel won the 2016 CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger and was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award.

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