Sunday, October 6, 2013

Child 44

by Tom Rob Smith

This book has been on my "to-read" list for a few years, when it was listed as candidate for the Man Booker Prize. The novel is a suspense/thriller set in Stalin era Soviet Union. The story boils down to this: one of the top Soviet MGB officers determines there is a serial child-killer on the loose, but the Soviet State refuses to accept this premise, so Leo Demidov is forced to find this madman alone. As he follows the trail of the murderer, he is haunted by Child 44, who, as one of the victims, happens to be the son of a colleague.

Here is my take: the book focuses more on the communist state than developing a suspense. While many a gruesome detail is included in the story, I found little mystery as to the culprit, although other reviewers seemed surprised by the ending. I'm also not sure how accurate his depiction of the Soviet State is because several of the scenarios seem implausible within a socialist regime. For an example, one side story involves Leo's wife and the question of her loyalty to both her husband and the State. Leo's superior tells him to investigate her, which seems rather unlikely that they would leave that to her husband.... but you never know. There is an unexpected twist toward the end of the book, but it is somewhat irrelevant, only in that it places the hero in a moral conundrum.

Again I have found myself unwittingly reading the first novel in a series. Fortunately, this was fine standing alone because I didn't love it enough to read two more. However, if you like suspense with a little history, you might enjoy these books. 

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