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Great Book: The Stasi File

Author: Peter Bernhardt

Genre: Suspense Thriller

The Stasi File: Dust from the demolished Berlin Wall has barely settled, the East German police state is teetering on the edge of collapse, and Stasi General HOLGER FRANTZ will stop at nothing to save it. Caught in his intrigue are two unlikely heroes: American lawyer ROLF KELLER and aspiring opera diva SYLVIA MAZZONI.   

Rolf, recently divorced and fresh off the bottle, is dispatched to his native Germany by the senior partner of his Washington law firm to coordinate the drop of top-secret documents by a defecting Stasi agent. Rolf is stunned to learn that Sylvia, his former lover during Berlin college days, has been coerced by West German intelligence into acting as courier with threats of exposing her youthful involvement with Red Army Faction terrorists.

Nothing has prepared these reluctant recruits for the Stasi’s ruthlessness. Although the first drop of stolen documents goes smoothly, subsequent arrangements end in a burst of violence that sends the pair fleeing into the East German countryside. Following clues left by the murdered defector, they unearth his document cache and escape into the night, pursued by armed Stasi henchmen.

Besides a file containing damning information about Sylvia, they recover documents with cryptic references to a plot for derailing unification by assassinating West Germany’s chancellor—but when and where? With Germany’s future hanging in the balance, Rolf and Sylvia manage to decipher the coded document in time to race to the assassination site. But a Stasi killer is waiting. As he marches them into a deserted clearing in the Bavarian woods, all seems lost—their effort to foil the assassins, German unification, and their very lives. 

Holly Michael’s Thoughts on The Stasi File: Nothing like a well written book to wake you up, shake you out of your typical genre, and make you want more. From the moment I flicked my Kindle “on” switch, I joined Peter Bernhardt’s compelling, well drawn out characters in an action packed suspenseful plot, full of twists and turns, straight through to a satisfying (but “I want more”) ending. Caught up in The Stasi File, I neglected sleep, Twitter, Facebook, my husband, and yes, even Words With Friends.

An element that I appreciated in Bernhardt’s suspense thriller was that he mastered plot, characters, tension, and drama without using the profanity that makes Grandma cringe.

Peter Bernhardt obviously knows Germany (see author questions/answers below) and opera, and I admire the way he combined his love and knowledge of the two.

And you know those novels that incorporate intriguing history that makes you want to search Google for more details, but you can’t tear your eyes from the pages? This is one of those books. Oh, but never mind, continue reading and learn about the Red Army Faction, Stasi Files, German Reunification, opera, and label the new knowledge under, “pure entertainment.”

Though my Twitter profile lists that I’m a world traveler, I’d only seen Germany from airport windows. The Stasi file captures the mood and feel of German cities and villages so much that I want to claim I was there and send postcards home. Germany is great! Love my new friends Sylvia and Rolf. Got caught up in espionage. Saw Carmen at the Opera. Savored delicious German food. Had a fantastic time. Wish you were here! You can be if you read The Stasi File. Suspense thrillers are my new favorite genre. Thanks Peter. Great Read!

Five Author Questions to Peter Bernhardt

Holly Q1. Opera and espionage. Stuttgart, Germany. Writers write what they know. I’m not accusing you of being a spy, but what links a writer from Sedona, Arizona to these topics?

Peter A1. Not being a spy, I had to do a lot of research about tradecraft. Reading Charles McCarry and John LeCarré novels definitely helped. I grew up in Stuttgart and lived there until I emigrated to the U.S. at age twenty-three. A divided Germany and the Red Army Faction terrorists were constantly in the news during my formative years so it only seemed natural for me to fashion a story involving those topics. But I also took to heart the advice to write what you feel passionate about. For me that meant I had to put opera – the most passionate of all art forms and one that has thrilled me since childhood- into my plot. And I loved the challenge of weaving it into the story line in a way that readers unfamiliar with opera would find interesting.

Holly Q2. You beautifully weave a history lesson in the pages of The Stasi File. What challenges did you face writing about the 1990s German Reunification and the Stasi (German secret police) files?

Peter Q2. As all authors know, one key to writing authentically is thorough and meticulous research. I spent countless hours combing through the huge volume of sources documenting the sinister machinations of the former East German secret police. For Stasi File readers interested in learning more about this dark period in communist East Germany, I heartily recommend the powerful Academy-Award winning German movie, The Lives of Others.

Holly Q3. You self published The Stasi File, a Quarter Finalist in 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. Can you share your self-publishing experience?

Peter A3. When The Stasi File made it into the bestseller chart of the British Arts Council sponsored site www.youwriteon.com, I decided to take advantage of its free publication program. The soft cover edition is available on Amazon. Shortly after its publication, I put the novel as an e-book on Kindle, a surprisingly easy process. Kindle sales have been steady.

Holly Q4.Your best advice for writers?

Peter A4. Stay true to yourself and your vision for your manuscript. Find a way to get quality feedback (I recommend Internet Writing Workshop), then learn to distinguish between critics who want you to write your novel the way they would write it and reviewers who offer substantive, thoughtful criticism, i.e., what works and what doesn’t and the reasons. Ultimately, have faith in and follow your inner guidance.

Holly Q5. After reading The Stasi File, readers will want more. What other novels have you written and what’s next?

Peter A5. After I finished The Stasi File, I felt a sense of loss. Sylvia and Rolf had been with me for two years, and I kept thinking about them during my morning runs through the red rocks of Sedona. When several readers suggested I write a sequel, I heartily agreed. I recently finished Teya’s Kiss. Here is the book concept in one sentence: When a Washington trial lawyer and a budding opera diva are pressed into searching for a missing archaeologist in the Santa Fe hills, they not only encounter ruthless antiquities traffickers, but find their fates intertwined with that of a shaman’s daughter, who centuries earlier played a crucial role in the Pueblo Indian Revolt that drove the Spanish from New Mexico. The novel is currently in the second round of this year’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

Peter Bernhardt is a naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated at age 23 from Germany. The author served as editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Law Journal. He graduated first in his law school class. His 25-year legal career included 18 years with the Department of Justice as the Civil Chief in a U.S. Attorney’s Office. Writing has been a lifelong passion. Teya’s Kiss, sequel to his first novel, The Stasi File, will soon be published.