May 6

Guest Post – David Young: Serial Heroes

Welcome to Day 5 of Serial Heroes. To quickly recap what has gone already there have been contributions from Steven Dunne, Caroline Mitchell, Alan Jones and Michael Wood and they brought Hannibal Lecter,  Stephen King, Ian Fleming’s James Bond and the wonderful Andy Dalziell. You can click on the names of my guests to catch up with their featured posts.

Today I am thrilled to be able to welcome David Young to Grab This Book. David’s novel Stasi Child stands out amongst the books I have read this year as its 1970’s East Berlin setting was refreshingly different and I loved the additional political elements which his lead character, Karen Müller, had to face.

I asked David if he had a favourite crime series he would like to discuss…


The Holy ThiefWhen I started work on Stasi Child on the first-ever City University Crime Thriller MA late in 2012 I got some fantastic help from tutors on the course – all of whom were published authors. Initially it was Claire McGowan who encouraged the germ of the idea, and Roger (RN) Morris who inadvertently led me to a possible structure – via an introduction to Peter May’s excellent Lewis trilogy (the flip-flopping of two narratives in The Lewis Man is something I ‘borrowed’ for Stasi Child). Then Laura Wilson worked with me on the nuts and bolts over the course of about a year.

But the tutor I missed out on, who ironically was closest in genre to what I was planning, was William Ryan. He started teaching first years just as I started my second year!

One of my fellow students (Debut Dagger winner Jody Sabral) was nevertheless assigned Bill as her personal tutor, started singing his praises, and was the first to give me the heads up about his wonderful Captain Korolev series – of which there have been three novels so far. I soon realised that here – in another country, in another time period – was a series with a very similar concept to mine: police detective trying to fight for the truth in a totalitarian communist state, while all the time being at the very least constrained by a secret police apparatus for which the truth was often best kept hidden.

The Korolev series (The Holy Thief, The Bloody Meadow and The Twelfth Department) starts as Stalin’s Great Terror of the mid- to late- thirties is about to fully get into gear. It’s a period I know something about (my undergraduate final thesis was a study of British attitudes to the Stalinist purges) so that piqued my interest even more. And it’s a frightening backdrop, where paranoia and state snooping rules.

First up is The Holy Thief (2010), and what a tremendous start to the series it is, garnering multiple award shortlistings (including one for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, for which Stasi Child has been longlisted).

Captain Alexei Dmitriyevich Korolev, who works for the criminal investigation division of the Moscow Militia is called in to investigate the body of a young woman found mutilated in a deconsecrated church.

the Bloody MeadowWhen it turns out the woman was an American citizen, the Soviet secret police – the NKVD – become involved. With enemies of the state being carted off to labour camps in Siberia every few minutes, or worse, Korolev is caught between fighting for the truth, and not falling foul of the Chekists.

Although on the surface loyal to the party, Korolev keeps a Bible under the floorboards – something which, if found, could be his own ticket to a frozen death camp.

Throughout these three exciting novels – for the most part traditional mysteries set against a background of intrigue, but with occasional thriller elements thrown into the mix – fear, suspicion and crackling tension keep the pages turning. Korolev, with his stubborn individualism, is someone you really root for.

Book 2, The Bloody Meadow (published in the US as The Darkening Field) continues the theme, but this time Korolev is despatched to Ukraine to investigate the apparent suicide of a model citizen during the shooting of a film. Once again, the NKVD has its tentacles firmly gripping every part of the story.

For me, it is the weaker novel of the three – but I still thoroughly enjoyed it, which says a lot for the overall quality of the series.

The Twelfth DepartmentThe pick of the bunch, in my view, is the third tale, The Twelfth Department. Here Korolev is about to enjoy a well-earned break, and a visit to Moscow from the young son of his broken marriage, Yuri. But when a top scientist is murdered, Korolev’s holiday plans are in ruins, and he’s thrown into another investigation in which he even begins to suspect the loyalty of his own son – and vice versa.

It’s perhaps the most terrifying of the three, and the ante is upped further when Yuri goes missing. Now, instead of the truth being Korolev’s prime goal, it’s the safety of his own progeny – and that leads to potential compromises of his integrity.

So, three cracking books. Ryan’s fourth is a stand-alone, a novel set in 1945 Germany, post WW2 and inspired by photographs collected by an SS officer. More details and the first two chapters here:

But from Twitter conversations, Ryan has revealed he is also working on a fourth Korolev tale – and that’s something I very much look forward to, as to end the series after just three would be almost as heinous a crime as ones the good Captain investigates in Stalin’s evil empire.

I can exclusively reveal it’s set on a polar icebreaker: left in the ice pack over winter for propaganda purposes. But when some of the crew are murdered, Korolev – who’s in political trouble after uncovering an NKVD mass grave – is flown in to deal with the situation. It soon emerges that the danger doesn’t come just from within the ship – but also from out on the ice.

Sounds delicious. I can’t wait.


David Young

David Young’s Amazon page is here:


Stasi ChildYou can order Stasi Child through this link:

David is on Twitter as: @djy_writer   You can also visit him at

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Posted May 6, 2016 by Gordon in category "Guests", "Uncategorized