First 2 chapters of Komplex 08

Wed, Apr 4 2018 12:11pm IST 1
12 Posts

Hello to all of you, these are the first 2 chapters of the manuscript I have just completed and I am just looking for any comments that will help me to improve my writing. Thank you for taking the time to read this...

Chapter 1

Wednesday 11th October 1989

Buch, East Germany

The early morning sunlight crept slowly over the horizon casting it's diffused light down across the forest. Miniature spotlights penetrated the thick canopy of pine trees to send spears of light stabbing down towards the forest floor, chasing away the darker shadows of night.

As the forest emerged from its silent slumber the dawn chorus rose up to greet the fresh new day. The birdsong was sporadic at first, an orchestra warming up, then as each instrument added its own voice the chorus rose to cacophony of sound. A fresh wind glided through the trees, rustling branches and swaying boughs, it was like listening to an old man rising from his bed as his bones creaked in protest.

It was just like any other morning as the forest slowly came to life, until the sunlight fell down across something that shouldn't have been there, something that was alien to the natural ambience of the forest. As the sunlight crept slowly across the clearing, like an advancing tide inching its way up a beach, it reflected off the toes of a pair of black shoes that were pointed up towards the sky like two tombstones.

The rays of light paused for a moment, as if assessing the situation, then slowly advanced up across the prone figure, crawling up dark blue trousers caked in dried mud, glimmering off a white shirt exposed beneath an open black jacket, lingering on a thick bull neck, before moving up across a grey goatee beard and an open mouth, displaying stained smokers teeth. The sunlight continued to rise up the chubby face, with features so pale they appeared to be cast from marble, glided over the half closed eyes and bushy eyebrows, until it came to rest on the neat entry wound just above the right eye, surrounded by black powder burns.

A pool of dried blood and brain matter carpeted the sandy soil around the bald head and insects had already began to feed on this unexpected bounty. From its vantage point, at the top a gnarled tree, a hooded crow eyed up the dead body and cocked its head to one side. But as the bird launched itself from its lofty perch for a closer inspection the sound of a barking dog echoed around the forest clearing. In a manoeuvre that would have put any airline pilot to shame, the crow immediately changed its flight path from a controlled landing into an emergency takeoff and banked gracefully up towards the tree tops.

The Alsatian dropped down onto its haunches and snaked towards the body, its tail down as it cautiously sniffed the scent of death, then the dog backed away and began barking incessantly.

'What's the matter Max?' The old man's voice echoed as he stepped from beneath the cover of the trees into the clearing and blinked as the low sunlight caught his eyes.

Chapter 2

By the time Hauptmann Schnell arrived at the crime scene the early morning sunshine had disappeared behind oppressive clouds that hovered above the forest like a grey blanket. It wasn't a matter of if they dumped their heavy loads down across the forest, it was just a case of when.

The contents of the victim's wallet had told Schnell that he was looking down at one Julius Decker. In life Decker had been a squat, bull like figure, in death his pale frozen features made him look much older than his forty six years. Fortunately the elderly dog walker had taken several steps away from the body before bringing up his hearty breakfast but the stench of fresh vomit still lingered on the chilly morning air, overpowering the pine scent from the forest.

As he stood staring down at the body the Kripo investigator suddenly had the feeling that he was being watched. When he turned around and glanced up at the treetops behind him Schnell saw a crow staring down at him like a morbid observer at a funeral.

Meister Hanne Weill finished off her rough sketch of the crime scene, glanced around the clearing to ensure that she hadn't missed anything and then walked up join Schnell beside the body. Weill had a small pixie nose sat above a wide mouth, which gave the impression that she was always smiling, and her light brown hair was tied back in a ponytail exposing a slender swan like neck.

Schnell let out an impatient sigh when he felt a spot of rain land on his face and glanced up at the aluminium coloured sky.

'I though the pathologist would have been here by now, if he doesn't get here soon the crime scene will end up being a soggy bloody mess.'

'Nager's just been on the radio, there was a traffic accident to the south of Blankenburg but he's got past it now so he shouldn't be too long.'

'The sooner he gets here the better,' Schnell replied as he ran the fingers of his right hand through his unruly grey hair, 'I want to get the forensic team to work as soon as he's examined the body.'

'I've briefed them up and they are ready to go.'

Schnell glanced across at Weill and nodded his head approvingly, she was one of the best Kriminaltechniker officer's that Schnell had ever worked with. He had known Weill for many years and was well aware, that in the predominantly male environment of the Kripo's, she had earned her reputation the hard way.

'At least Kirchner's got to work, that's something I suppose.'

They glanced across towards the blond haired police tracker who was knelt down examining partial footprints in the sandy soil.

Unterwachmeister Kirchner had been a member of the forensic team for nearly two years and Schnell found the visual trackers interpretation of outdoor crime scenes invaluable. Nothing escaped his sharp eyes, he had the ability to look at individual pieces of ground sign and join them together to form what he called a "track picture", which told him what had happened at a crime scene.

Kirchner’s father, Stefan, had been a legend amongst the hunting fraternity of East Germany, it was said that he could track anything that moved. The twenty eight year old had mastered his father’s exceptional skills but had chosen the life of a policeman rather than a hunter.

Moving slowly Kirchner stopped periodically to kneel down and take a closer look at the ground, examining scuffmarks and partial prints that were invisible to someone without his skills. On his belt the tracker carried what looked like a quiver of crossbow arrows but they were numbered yellow marker poles. As he followed the ground sign away from the body, Kirchner placed a marker pole beside each piece of good ground sign that he came across.

The trackers first action on arriving at the crime scene had been to check the sole patterns on the dog walkers boots and the victims shoes. A simple process of elimination had then established which footprints belonged to the killer and these had became his "key sign".

After placing a marker pole next to the piece of ground sign he had been examining, Kirchner stood up and walked across to join Schnell and Weill.

'So what can you tell me Peter?' Schnell asked.

Kirchner pointed across towards a prominent tree on the edge of the forest, about a hundred metres northeast of where they were standing. 'It looks like the victim and killer came into the clearing from the direction of that large pine tree.'

'Can you follow their tracks and find out where they came from?'

'I should be able to the ground sign is fairly good in this area.'

'Okay, well have a look and make sure you get good photos and casts of all the sign you come across.'

Kirchner nodded his head and walked across to the last maker pole he had placed out to begin his task.

As he watched the tracker follow the ground sign back towards the edge of the forest, Schnell thought it was like watching a bloodhound at work. At one point Kirchner came across a patch of rocky ground and the prints disappeared completely, so he reverted to his lost track drill. He placed a marker pole next to the last good footprint he had and then probed outwards for several metres in different directions until he picked up the key sign once again and continued following it.

'That boys damn good at what he does.' Weill commented as she watched the tracker at work.

'He saves us a hell of a lot of time that's for sure.' Schnell replied.

A deep voice suddenly echoed around the clearing. 'Otto.'

Schnell turned around to see the unmistakable frame of Meister Alex Ritter advancing up the scene of crime pathway towards him. Ritter's bulky frame towered over the rest of the team, he had what could best be described as a lived in face that had taken one glove to many. A badly broken nose and scars around both eyes were testament to Ritter's successful boxing career.

'The pathologist has arrived do you want me to bring him up.'

'At last, yes Axel get him up here and tell the forensic boys to get ready as well.'

Several minutes later Ritter returned with the pathologist and police photographer following on behind him.

'So what do we have here then?' Emil Nager asked as he shook hands with Schnell and Weill.

'Forty six year old male shot through the forehead.' Schnell replied.

Nager placed his black bag down, took a quick walk around the body and then got the bald headed photographer to take several shots from various angles. Once he was satisfied with the initial photographs the pathologist put his protective gloves on and knelt down to begin his preliminary examination.

'I passed Decker's details onto the Alex.' Ritter said as they watched the pathologist at work. 'They are going through the records to see if we have anything on him.'

'Let's see what they come back with.' Schnell replied thoughtfully.

Once he had finished his examination of the body Nager got the photographer to take some close up shots of the entry and exit wounds, taped a clear plastic bag over each of the victims hands, then stood up and removed a pair of silver framed glasses from a badly pockmarked face.

‘So then Emil what can you give me?’ Schnell enquired.

‘The liver mortis indicates that the victim wasn't moved after death, so this is where he was killed. As well as the obvious gunshot wound to the head he also has quite a lump just behind his right ear, I would say that it was delivered with enough force to render him unconscious. I should be able to give you some more to go on at the post mortem.’

'Can you estimate the time of death?’

‘Looking at the liver mortis in the back and buttocks and signs of rigor mortis in the face and neck, I would estimate that he died somewhere around twelve hours ago. I might be able to narrow that down a bit …’

Schnell finished the sentence. ‘At the post mortem.’

‘Exactly and there was me thinking that you never listened to me Otto. Let me get the body onto the slab and I should be able to give you some more to go on.'

Schnell nodded his head, Nager might have been a grizzly old bastard at times but he was good at his job and that was all that anyone could ask of him.

'That's all I can do out here, the ambulance is in the holding area waiting to remove the body when you have finished with it. I'll give your office a call once I have a time for the autopsy.’ Nager picked up his bag, nodded at Schnell and Weill, then strolled back down towards the holding area.

After watching the forensic team get to work Schnell waited for Kirchner to walk back across towards him.

'The ground sign led back to a car park about five hundred metres southeast of here, from what I can tell both the victim and killer arrived there in the same vehicle. It looks to me like there was some kind of a struggle close to where the vehicle was parked, then the victim must have fled into the forest and the killer followed him. I've left the photographer there and taped the car park off.'

'Good work Peter.'

'I'm just going to start work on the cast's.' Kirchner replied and then headed down towards the holding area.

Schnell watched the four man forensic team get to work under the watchful eye of Hanne Weill, then headed back down towards the holding area for a break. He leant back against one of the police vehicles, pulled out a battered packet of f6 cigarettes and lighter from the pocket of his Kriminalpolizei jacket and lit up. Schnell took a long drag on the cigarette and let out a satisfied sigh when he exhaled, the smoke hung like a cloud above his head before being snatched away by the wind.

Otto Schnell was just a couple of months off his fifty second birthday but his hound dog features and grizzled complexion made him look much older. He would be the first one to admit that he was well past his prime, long gone was the skinny, hill walking youth of yesteryear.

As he smoked his cigarette Schnell went over the known facts of the crime scene in his head, the forensic evidence indicated that Decker had probably been knocked unconscious at an unknown location, brought to the forest by his killer, had managed to escape but had then been caught and shot through the head. But of course the overriding question in Schnell's mind was why? Decker hadn't been robbed, the wallet full of Marks and flashy looking watch still attached to his wrist were proof of that. So why did the killer bring him to this remote spot, what was the significance of his actions?

As usual there were more questions than answers at this stage of the investigation.

'Otto.' Ritter's voice broke into Schnell's train of thought. 'Meer wants to talk to you.'

Schnell stubbed out his cigarette and walked across to the police vehicle where Ritter was sat holding a radio handset.

'Schnell.' The investigator said after leaning into the vehicle and taking the handset from Ritter.

'I have an update for you,' the voice of Schnell's boss drifted out of the tinny speaker, 'Decker was the security manager at Dynamo sports club.'

Schnell rolled his eyes and muttered something unintelligible whilst Ritter shook his head, this wasn't what either of them wanted to hear.

'Great, I suppose that means our friends are on their way then.'

'Yes they are and they have instructed that the body is to stay exactly where it is until they have taken a look at it.'

Schnell let out a weary sigh, the last thing he wanted to hear was that the Ministerium fur Staatssicherheit (MfS), often referred to as the Stasi, were on their way to interfere with his investigation.

Schnell shrugged his shoulders. 'Okay I've got that.'

'Just comply with whatever they want and remember who the president of Dynamo sports club is.' Meer warned before he cut off the conversation.

Schnell passed the handset back to Ritter then stood up and lit another cigarette.

'Isn't it bloody typical, three murders over the last couple of months and no sign of the MfS. Someone murders the Dynamo security manager and they come crawling out of the woodwork.'

'I know but it's hardly surprising considering the head of the MfS is also chairman of the Dynamo sports club.' Ritter reiterated what Meer had been hinting at. 'Hasn't that ever struck you as being rather odd, how the hell did Erich Mielke end up being president of the Dynamo club?'

'Beats me Axel but it sure as hell wasn't anything to do with his athletic prowess that's for sure.'

Schnell took a long slow drag on his cigarette and resigned himself to the fact that the Stasi had the authority to poke their noses into any police investigation they chose to. They even had the authority to take over a case completely if they deemed it was in the interests of State Security and there was bugger all he could do about it.

After watching the forensic team carry out a painstaking hand search all around the body, Hanne Weill glanced across at Schnell and he nodded his head. The investigators experience told him that they wouldn't get anything else from the crime scene, Kirchner and the photographer had recorded all the decent ground sign and there was nothing to be gained from extending the search pattern.

Weill stood the team down and walked across to join Schnell.

'The boys have combed the ground well beyond the distance an empty case would have been ejected. So I am guessing the killer must have used a small calibre revolver or picked up the empty case if he used a pistol. There's no sign of the bullet either, depending on its velocity after exiting the victims head it could have ended up anywhere.'

'Okay I think we have done everything that we can possibly do. As soon as the MfS turn up and look at the body we can get it...'

'They have just arrived.' Weill cut in and Schnell turned around to see two figures marching up the scene of crime pathway towards him.

'Koestler. Just great that's all I bloody need.' Schnell muttered under his breath when he recognised the lead figure.

'We haven't seen him for a while, Decker's murder must have rattled someone's cage.' Weill said out of the side of her mouth.

Wolfgang Koestler was one of Erich Mielke’s chief hatchet men, the dark figure that lurked behind the king’s throne waiting to pounce on the unwary. Koestler was in charge of the Special Commission, the MfS’s own investigation team, which came under Hauptabteilungen Seven and were responsible for the security of all the departments within the Ministry of the Interior. In theory Koestler was under the command of Generalmajor Rolf Fister but in practice he took his orders directly from the Minister for State Security, Erich Mielke, and was often assigned ‘special tasks’ by him.

The MfS officer and Kripo investigator had crossed swords many times over the years, so their meeting was somewhat less than cordial.

‘Okay Schnell give me an update on what you have here?' Koestler demanded brusquely, his accent was guttural just like his manner.

‘All the evidence indicates that Decker was knocked unconscious at an unknown location and brought to this area in the killers vehicle.....'

Koestler nodded his head periodically as he listened to Schnell's brief on the results of their initial investigation.

For a man with such a formidable reputation Koestler was nothing much to look at, he was of average height and build, and his square features were topped with closely cropped silver hair. You could walk pass him on the street without giving him a second glance, there was nothing that distinguished him from anyone else, until you looked into his eyes. They were brown but due to a high concentration of melanin through the iris they appeared as black as coal. Koester didn't just look at someone; he looked straight through them, right down to the very depths of their soul. It was rumoured in MfS Headquarters that he could get a suspect to talk by just entering the interrogation room, his menacing glare seemed to be enough.

As usual Koestler was dressed in civilian attire, an open necked blue shirt worn beneath a black Reefer jacket, members of the Special Commission rarely wore a uniform.

Hauptmann Dieter Lutze lurked in Koestler’s shadow; he had tight black curly hair and deep set intelligent eyes, hidden behind black-rimmed spectacles. Schnell always thought the man looked more like a schoolteacher than a member of the MfS but he had to concede that Lutze was good investigator, nothing escaped his sharp inquisitive mind.

Once Schnell had finished briefing him, Koestler glanced at the yellow marker poles leading across towards the edge of the forest, then knelt down to take a closer look at Decker's body. Whilst Lutze satisfied himself with a quick glance over his bosses shoulder, it told him all he needed to know.

'And you have no idea who killed him or why he was murdered?' Koestler asked as he studied the body.

'Not at this stage.' Schnell replied.

Koestler stood up and turned around to face Schnell.

'Then you have a lot of work to do so you had better get on with it. I want answers and so will the Minister for State security, I take it that by now you know who Decker was?'

'I am well aware that he was the security manager of Dynamo sports club.'

'That's right and that means that a great deal of discretion will be required with this investigation on your part. I don't want your people stamping around inside the Dynamo Club upsetting the wrong people, is that clearly understood?'

Schnell begrudgingly nodded his head.

'We will handle this investigation with the sensitivity that it requires but I will find the person that did this, no matter where they are hiding.'

Schnell stood his ground when common sense should have dictated that he was subservient to Koestler's authority but he wasn't and that annoyed the MfS officer more than anything else.

'I want everything on this case passed to my office in a timely manner, I want to know what you know.' Koestler glared at Schnell to hammer the point home, then turned around and walked back towards the holding area with Lutze trailing on behind him.

'That's right turn up at the crime scene, contribute the sum of absolutely nothing as usual and then bugger off again.' Schnell growled when Koestler was barely out of earshot.

'Be careful, Koestler is just waiting to pounce on you again after the Marwitz case.' Weill warned.

‘Yes I know Hanne and maybe one day he will get his wish but for now I am investigating this case and I won’t take any crap from the bloody MfS.’ Schnell replied stubbornly.

'I know and we are all behind you Otto but Koestler is a bad enemy to have, that man is capable of anything.'

'Every time I set eyes on that thug Koestler the immortal words of Bertolt Brecht always come to mind.’

Weill looked quizzically across at Schnell.

‘Which are?’

‘A good communist has many dents in his helmet and some of them are the work of the enemy.' Schnell replied wryly just as the storm clouds finally released their full load down across the forest. 'Now let's get the ambulance up here and get this poor sod out of the rain.'

Wed, Apr 4 2018 01:14pm IST 2
2403 Posts

Hi Keith, welcome to the Cloud and well done for posting.

Okay, try not to hate me, but as beautifully written as your first chapter is, I think - for maximum impact - you should start with Chapter 2 and 'The contents of the victim's wallet...' It has everything you need - genre (I'm guessing crime or thriller), a victim and a hook.

At this point in the story, I'd say keep it tight and move it forward. There's a little too much backstory eg '..she was one of the best Kriminaltechniker officers that Schnell had ever worked with. He had known...' It takes the reader out of the moment, if you see what I mean.

It's obvious you know what you're talking about, but I think you might be slowing down the action with too much detail.

As ever, ignore what doesn't work for you.

Wed, Apr 4 2018 03:57pm IST 3
12 Posts

Thanks very much and thank you for taking the time to read what I have written, those are really valid and very helpful points that you have made.

You are right the backstory does distract the reader and could be taken out to make the story flow much better or be slashed right down. I can see now that because I know my subject material really well, I am trying to put to much of it into the story. I really do appreciate your honest and open comments....

Wed, Apr 4 2018 04:26pm IST 4
John Alty
John Alty
46 Posts
Hi Keith,
I have to agree with Seagreen, the scene setting in Chapter 1 is a bit overdone - get straight to the action.
I think you could cut out a lot of words - all those down and ups and overs are largely unnecessary and distracting. eg: ....down across the forest and ... slowly advanced up. Also, your descritptions, whilst excellent, tend to be repetitive, as if you have to drive home a point that doesn't need driving. The description of Koestler is an example. You should trust your readers to get the picture without all the detail and repetition.

The story seems promising, I'd read on for sure.

Please ignore whatever doesn't work for you, I'm no expert.
Wed, Apr 4 2018 05:14pm IST 5
12 Posts
Hi John, many thanks for your really helpful comments. Having looked at those chapters again I can see your point, there is far to much repetition. I can see that I need to strip the story back and drive it forward a lot better, you are right I do seem to over do a point rather than letting the reader pick up on it.

Many thanks for taking the time to help me, I appreciate it...

Wed, Apr 4 2018 05:20pm IST 6
2304 Posts
Yup - what Sea said. Reads well otherwise. One thing - Schnell does a lot of standing around watching other people work. Isn't there something he can be doing as well?
Wed, Apr 4 2018 06:21pm IST 7
12 Posts
Thanks very much for reading this and for your comments, yes I guess you are right, Schnell does stand around a lot. I will have to look at what else he could be doing to move the story along....

Wed, Apr 4 2018 08:22pm IST 8
2403 Posts

Just out of curiosity, how long is your finished manuscript?

Wed, Apr 4 2018 09:02pm IST 9
12 Posts
Its around 78,000 words...
Thu, Apr 5 2018 07:54am IST 10
2403 Posts
EmmaD, who's one of the tutors on the Self-edit course, has a blog called This Itch of Writing (you can Google it), which has an amazing Tool-kit for writers. Well worth a look.
Thu, Apr 5 2018 08:26am IST 11
12 Posts
Thanks I will have a look at it.
Fri, Apr 6 2018 12:36am IST 12
841 Posts
Keith - I’m currently reading Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series which IMO is very well written. This makes some of your style feel rather familiar - have you read Kerr’s novels?

I like what you have done here, although I haven’t read through in detail but Seagreen’s questions/comments seem appropriate. One reaction to chapter 2 is that as a reader I feel a little remote from what is happening, I’m not in his head enough, you could add some meat about what he is thinking/feeling. For me, you also have the challenge of making your MC not be honest, smart alec, women-magnet, hard-bitten Bernie Gunther, i.e. to be unique/distinctive.

Fri, Apr 6 2018 03:09pm IST 13
12 Posts

Hi Barny, thanks for taking the time to read through the chapters and for your very helpful comments.

Yes I have read one Bernie Gunther book and I enjoyed it but I much prefer Xavier March the Kripo investigator in Fatherland, written by Robert Harris. In subsequent chapters a lot more of Schnell's character comes into play, I have tried to steer away from the women-magnet, hard bitten character and expose his more vulnerable side.

I very much take your point about creating a distinctive MC and getting into Schnell's head and feelings more, to bring the reader closer to him. Just about to start re-writing and I will take your points, and the other good advice that I have been offered, onboard.

Best regards


Tue, Jun 12 2018 05:51pm IST 14
4 Posts


I’m sorry if this sounds negative. However I really think this opening chapter undermines your story. As others are suggesting, you’d be better off beginning with C2. Or at least rewriting this – make it sharper and get rid of the repetition.

The early morning sunlight crept slowly over the horizon casting it's diffused light down across the forest.

- Repetition of light disrupts the flow.

- Crept and slow are implying the same, so extraneous

- Casting and diffusing risks too many verbs. Decide what the light is doing. The clearer and crisper the better

- Watch out for punctuation errors

- It’s also a bit of a clichéd opener. Morning light…blah, blah, blah.

Miniature spotlights penetrated the thick canopy of pine trees to send spears of light stabbing down towards the forest floor, chasing away the darker shadows of night.

- Again you have the repetition of light

- The writing lacks economy

- You risk saying the same thing twice with miniature and spotlight

- It sounds overblown and phony like you are trying to write how you think you should write, rather than in a natural voice. It continues in the same way below….too many literary devices being used. Try to use these sparingly.

Hope that helps.

Thu, Jun 14 2018 08:01pm IST 15
12 Posts
Thanks Mike thats a great help I have taken your advice on board, as well as all the other good advice I have received and started at C2 without all the overdone description.

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