Article published on February 10, 2018.
In this new instalment in our series of reading group guides, Paul Burke poses some questions about the current BookNoir Book of the Month, A Darker State by David Young:
Q: A Darker State is set in 1970s East Germany. This is the first time a series like this has been set there. What does the location and political situation add to the story of a murder investigation?
Q: Why do you think Young chose a female character, Karin Müller, as the main protagonist for his thriller series?
Q: Do you think Muller was coerced or coaxed back to work? How do you think she felt about being offered the new job, with an apartment and the bump in rank?
Q: Stasi Oberst Major Jäger hovers in the background from the beginning of the novel. Did you sense that his presence weighed on Muller and the investigation even before he inevitably became involved in the case? How does her past experience with Jäger affect Müller and her team? Can he be trusted?
Q: What would it be like operating as a police officer under the DDR Communist regime? Would it be possible to be non-political in the job? What does Müller’s experience tell us?
Q: The egalitarian nature of the DDR constitution and state apparatus means that everyone worked for the greater good and is equal under the law. Muller has risen to the rank of Major. As a woman, is she treated as an equal? Is reality at odds with this principle of law?
Q: Young exposes the underworld of East Germany, from the criminal to the dissident and those whose lifestyles are anathema to the authorities despite their legality. How well does he invoke the menace of the times? Imagine the difficulties of life as a gay person in East Germany.
Q: Do you see any parallels between the issues of the state doping of athletes and sexual identity in East Germany and the modern controversies concerning drugs in sport and the fact that we still do not have an open expression of sexuality in sport?
Q: State-sponsored doping of young sport stars (surely a form of child abuse) has been exposed and condemned over the years. In A Darker State Young goes a step further in exposing the conspiracy with an American drugs companies. The DDR state, when caught out, blames the doctor and the Stasi officers going rogue. Is this the way you think it would have happened? Does this ring true?
Q: Everyone in East Germany faced the possibility of betrayal because of the constant surveillance by friends and family. Were you surprised by Karin Müller’s own experience in the novel?
Q: What do you think Karin Müller’s relationship with Tilsner and her relationship with Jäger add to the novel?
Q: Do you think Young captures the feeling of Cold War relations and tensions right in the plot? There is a lot of hypocrisy in dealings with each other by both sides.
Q: The story of Marcus Schmidt nearly ends in tragedy. Do you think Young handled this strand of the story sensitively? How important is his story to the novel?
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