With Deutschland 83 having just returned to the small screen, in the shape of Deutschland 86, you might think that – in setting my crime thrillers in the German Democratic Republic (more commonly known as East Germany) – I am simply following a fashionable trend.
That was never my aim. My original inspiration for the Stasi Child series -- which now continues with its fourth instalment, Stasi 77-- has been documented elsewhere. A decade or so ago, I started a little indie-pop band, we managed to blag a tour of Germany, and I was surprised and inspired by the amount of GDR infrastructure still visible in the eastern part of the country.
That led to a trial chapter from Stasi Childon a creative writing MA, and my tutor – Northern Irish crime writer Claire McGowan – encouraged me to turn it into a novel (despite, at every turn, telling me she hated my choice of title). But in researching Stasi ChildI discovered a wealth of weird and wonderful stories in East Germany, some of which I’ve now fashioned into novels.
It wasn’t a conscious choice to become a historical crime writer (Stasi Childwas fortunate enough to win the CWA’s 2016 history dagger for the best historical crime novel of the year), it was simply an automatic follow-on from choosing an East German setting. East Germany has disappeared. It’s a lost world. Unless I wanted to invent a parallel universe in the shape of Robert Harris’s Fatherland, I was automatically in the historical pigeon hole.
It’s quite a comfortable home for me, however. I’ve always been interested in history, and despite giving it up before ‘O’-levels (I was forced instead to do Latin, which I hated) my Humanities degree in the late 1970s at the then Bristol Polytechnic was pretty much – in effect – a history degree as a result of my module choices, and my dissertation on British attitudes to Stalin’s purges of the 1930s.
Stasi 77 is steeped in history – both from the GDR era, and that of the Nazi period. In fact, its inspiration was taken from a Nazi massacre in the final weeks of the Second World War, onto which I’ve bolted a fictional crime story set in 1977. Hence the novel’s title.
It’s a novel I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing, despite its sometimes horrific content. Once again, as in my debut and the follow-ups – Stasi Wolf (2017) and A Darker State (2018) – there is a twin narrative. One is told in third person past through the eyes of my detective, Major Karin Müller of the People’s Police.
The other – which I found particularly traumatic to write – is through the eyes of a French forced labourer at the Nazi’s V2 rocket factory near Nordhausen, who ends up enduring one of the infamous ‘death marches’ towards the end of the war.
Where that march ends, is where the action takes place – both in 1945, and in 1977.
It’s a novel that’s important to me, and I think it’s my best yet.
I hope you’ll read it and agree.
Stasi 77 by David Young (Published by Zaffre Publishing)
A secret State. A dark conspiracy. A terrible crime. Karin Muller of the German Democratic Republic's People's Police is called to a factory in the east of the country. A man has been murdered - bound and trapped as a fire burned nearby, slowly suffocating him. But who is he? Why was he targeted? Could his murderer simply be someone with a grudge against the factory's nationalisation, as Muller's Stasi colleagues insist? Why too is her deputy Werner Tilsner behaving so strangely? As more victims surface, it becomes clear that there is a cold-blooded killer out there taking their revenge. Soon Muller begins to realise that in order to solve these terrible crimes, she will need to delve into the region's dark past. But are the Stasi really working with her on this case? Or against her? For those who really run this Republic have secrets they would rather remain uncovered. And they will stop at nothing to keep them that way . . .