If all that Tom Rob Smith had done was to re-create Stalinist Russia, with all its double-speak hypocrisy, he would have written a worthwhile novel. He did so much more than that in Child 44, a frightening, chilling, almost unbelievable horror story about the very worst that Stalin's henchmen could manage. In this worker's paradise, superior in every way to the decadent West, the citizen's needs are met: health care, food, shelter, security. All one must offer in exchange are work and loyalty to the State. Leo Demidov is a believer, a former war hero who loves his country and wants only to serve it well. He puts contradictions out of his mind and carries on. Until something happens that he cannot ignore. A serial killer of children is on the loose, and the State cannot admit it.
To admit that such a murderer is committing these crimes is itself a crime against the State. Instead of coming to terms with it, the State's official position is that it is merely coincidental that children have been found dead, perhaps from accidents near the railroad tracks, perhaps from a person deemed insane, or, worse still, homosexual. But why does each victim have his or her stomach excised, a string around the ankle, and a mouth full of dirt? Coincidence? Leo, in disgrace and exiled to a country village, doesn't think so. How can he prove it when he is being pursued like a common criminal himself? He and his wife, Raisa, set out to find the killer. The revelations that follow are jaw-dropping and the suspense doesn't let up. This is a debut novel worth reading. --Valerie Ryan
A relentless page-turner. A terrifying evocation of a paranoid world where no one can be trusted. A surprising, unexpected story of love and family, of hope and resilience. CHILD 44 is a thriller unlike any you have ever read.
"There is no crime."
Stalin's Soviet Union strives to be a paradise for its workers, providing for all of their needs. One of its fundamental pillars is that its citizens live free from the fear of ordinary crime and criminals.
But in this society, millions do live in fear . . . of the State. Death is a whisper away. The mere suspicion of ideological disloyalty-owning a book from the decadent West, the wrong word at the wrong time-sends millions of innocents into the Gulags or to their executions. Defending the system from its citizens is the MGB, the State Security Force. And no MGB officer is more courageous, conscientious, or idealistic than Leo Demidov.
A war hero with a beautiful wife, Leo lives in relative luxury in Moscow, even providing a decent apartment for his parents. His only ambition has been to serve his country. For this greater good, he has arrested and interrogated.
Then the impossible happens. A different kind of criminal-a murderer-is on the loose, killing at will. At the same time, Leo finds himself demoted and denounced by his enemies, his world turned upside down, and every belief he's ever held shattered. The only way to save his life and the lives of his family is to uncover this criminal. But in a society that is officially paradise, it's a crime against the State to suggest that a murderer-much less a serial killer-is in their midst. Exiled from his home, with only his wife, Raisa, remaining at his side, Leo must confront the vast resources and reach of the MBG to find and stop a criminal that the State won't admit even exists.
Best Book of 2008 This is the best book I've read in 2008. A literal page-turner, it evoked such graphic images in my mind. I'm easily annoyed by quirks, what I perceive as flaws such as repeat favorite words, and limp writing, and not once did I stumble upon any of these unpardonable wallbangers. This beautiful book just flowed seemingly effortlessly from beginning to end, captivating me. I read it by a quiet river in Mexico and was so riveted I forgot where I was.
Usually I leave substandard books behind when I travel--not this one. Had to haul it home and write this lame review that doesn't do justice to what a wonderful job Mr. Smith did. I'm amazed and impressed at the amount of research that must've gone into this, too--did the author live in Russia, I wonder?...more info
Child 44 Impossible to put down. I've given the book to five people who have had the same reaction. Bought the book for my husbands Kindle he had the same reaction. I won't mention any plot facts as each action leads to another element of the story. A must read for historical fiction or simple mystery lovers. ...more info
You can't put this book down, even during the most hopeless of times This book by Tom Rob Smith caught my attention due to the setting and date (1950's Stalinist Russia) but the story hooked me from the very beginning. Smith has done much research to be able to describe lifestyle (if it can be called that) in Russia at that time. Leo, the protaganist is a complex character who's internal struggle through the book keeps you wanting to know more. This is a well written, well researched book that is appealing to readers not only as a satisfying thriller but also due to the fact that you glimpse and see 1950's Russia and the hardship those citizens faced at that time. It's a story of despair and a story of hopelessness, but that forces the spirit to constantly look for signs hope, for the characters in it as well as the reader. Pick it up, you won't be disappointed and it's a terrific mystery....more info
More, please! It is 3:06 A.M. and I've just finished the last page of Child44. The novel is set in Stalinist Russia (Stalin dies during the course of the tale). The hero, Leo, is at the beginning of the story a proud member of the Russian intelligence agency, MGB. His job is to ferret out spies and counter-revolutionaries. Without revealing too much of the plot, suffice it to say that Leo becomes involved in a covert investigation into a possible serial murderer. The novel is slow going at first but steadily picks up momentum until you have to stay up late, like me, to reach the very satisfying ending. I'm hoping that Child44 is just the first novel in a series featuring this surprisingly likeable detective. ...more info
Ultimately disappointing Please read other reviews for a synopsis of the story. The first third of Child 44 is an extremely engaging read that graphically depicts the psychological torment of life in late Stalinist Russia. Mistrust is the common currency of virtually any social interaction including the intimacies of family and friends. Whether Tom Rob Smith's descriptive powers are more the result of an extremely fertile imagination or thorough research, this reader was quickly drawn into that frightening totalitarian world so grimly portrayed. The novel unfortunately becomes increasingly concerned with the suddenly enlightened and obsessed hero's quest to win over his estranged wife while finding the serial killer who is the author of countless murders of young children. The implausiblity of the story and of much of the action increases exponentially as Leo's search heads towards its climax. What had initially kept me up past my bedtime with excitement and anticipation became, if not a chore, an obligation worth seeing through to its less than satisfactory end. ...more info
90% of a great thriller The concept is simple, take the Andrei Chikatilo serial murders and move them back in time to an era of dogma and fear in the Soviet Union.
I have no idea how accurate Smith's portrayal of the time and place was. It was very claustrophobic and the book moves along very well. The societal paranoia and suspicion gives rise to a strong thriller.
I bought in as the hero starts a star MGB agent who believes in the state and all that it entails. The transformation from disciple to heretic is believable and exciting. The plot moves along quickly and is well written.
Smith loses two full stars from me for the M. Night Shyamalan twist at the end. The twist is preposterous and truly ruins a good piece of writing. A thriller often has twists and surprises but when it inspires a response of "That's really stupid" then it has gone wrong.
This book was longlisted for Booker which is surprising for a novel of its genre.
I highly recommend 90% of this novel but as noted the ending really ruined the book and left a bad taste in my mouth.
two tales to tell I enjoyed this. Ther are really two books here. The first is a tale of life in Stalins Russia. The other is a murder mystery. The end is a bit contrived but for a first novel it was quite an impressive debut. I found it to be worth reading....more info
Well Crafted Environment of Soviet Russia Child 44 is surprisingly well done - surprisingly in that it is a first novel, surprisingly that it is a thriller and I suppose I'm not used to the genre being particularly well written. I highly recommend it, and have sung its praises to many friends and family members. I would particularly recommend it if you like history/communist studies. It's good even if you don't, but the basic background I have in USSR-history only added to the reading experience for me.
The strongest aspect of Tom Rob Smith's work is the development of the environment of Soviet Russia under Stalin and the tensions between the ideals and the reality. This work of fiction is very well researched and Smith has an excellent grasp on life in Soviet Russia and the inner workings of the Communist party. The main character, a KGB war hero, is faced with the deterioration of everything that he has believed in all his life. This conflict, not the murder mystery itself, is what makes this novel great.
As a murder mystery, it has its flaws. Several readers have already stated their disappointment in the ending. While I don't share their disappointment, I don't think that the murder mystery itself was particularly well established. In particular, I don't think the connection between the murder and the murders was well defined. The murders themselves, the profile of the serial killer (the serial killer as a character is probably Smith's weakest example of character development), and Leo's quest to solve it seems like an afterthought. In a lot of ways, it seems like Smith got so caught up in Stalinist Russia that he forgot that what he was writing was a murder mystery. Regardless - Smith's development of a fictional Soviet Russia places his work as a piece of a literature well above most mainstream murder mysteries that you will find.
I look forward to his next novel, because I think that the disconnect that I discussed is something that will improve with experience and I have nothing but high expectations for Tom Rob Smith's future work....more info
The history A time and place is introduced to many in this mystery. The ending is hokey, but the trip to Stalinist Russia is worth it. Trust no one. What life is like, when family friends strangers will rat you out in case they are suspected of sins against the state. Fascinating....more info
There's a killer on the road. His brain is squirming like a toad On November 22, 2008 Ukrainians in Kiev, Ukraine marked the anniversary of a 1932 famine, known as Holodomor (Death by Hunger), in which upwards of 3.5 million Ukrainians starved to death. That famine serves as the prologue for Tom Rob Smith's novel "Child 44". In that prologue two young Ukrainian children are sent out by their mother to scavenge for food. The scavenger hunt has terrible consequences for both brothers. The story then jumps ahead twenty years, at the end of Stalin's long reign, and introduces us to State Security Force (MGB) office Leo Demidov. Leo is a war hero and, by all accounts, a dedicated and competent police detective. A child of one of Demidov's colleague is found dead near some railroad tracks. The MGB rules it an accidental death. The family insists it was murder. The rest of the novel takes us on Demidov's reluctant journey, one that convinces him that not only was the child murdered but that the victim was but one of many at the hands of what will later become known as a serial murderer.
The plot develops along two parallel tracks (pun intended): Demidov's investigation and the bureaucratic obstacles placed in the way of that investigation. The MGB and the entire collective weight of the USSR can not nor will acknowledge the existence of a `serial killer'. That is politically and practically impossible in a nation well on its way to being a worker's paradise. Demidov must deal not only with a smart and sociopathic murderer but with a system that will not tolerate the investigation of something that it does not accept can exist.
Child 44 works pretty well. The story, based loosely on the story of the USSR's first acknowledged serial killer, seems to get the atmospherics just right. The bureaucracy and vicious plotting by and among Demidov's colleagues also has a realistic feel. Smith keeps the plot bubbling and manages to reveal just enough detail to keep the reader guessing. Although some elements of the outcome are quite predictable given the book's prologue he does manage to introduce enough twists at the end to make most readers a little surprised by some of the climactic events of the novel.
All in all Child 44 was a satisfying thriller. The writing could have been more polished in places. Sometimes Smith delves into some formulaic descriptions of some characters in the story and sometimes he can present an exciting event in a tone that may be just a bit too breathless. However, since the book is more plot-driven than `literary'-driven I think those minor flaws are easily overlooked. So, four stars for those looking for a thriller with an international flavor.
The best book I've read in a while I've been reading a lot of thriller/mystery novels lately, and this one by Smith is the best of them all. It is a political thriller, crime mystery, character-development love story all wrapped up in to one. And, more importantly, none of the three "types" of genre represented in Smith's book suffer for being put together.
As a political thriller, the book shines with its great portrayal of characters both heroic and flawed, brave and terrified. It captures well the double speak and justifiable "paranoia" that individuals under repressive regimes like that of Stalin had to contend with. For fans of books like Sofia Petrovna or more recent movies like The Lives of Others, set in East Germany, this book will certainly strike a chord.
As a crime mystery, the book is equally interesting, though this part of the plot at times fades into the background. Indeed, the idea of Leo, the main character, being on the hunt for the serial killer is largely dropped for quite some time at the beginning. One almost forgets about it, though the development of the other lines in the story are so interesting that it is not really something that would bother one (unless you really only like the serial killer mystery genre). Granted, not as much time is spent on developing the crimes, crime scenes, or the killer's personality as is perhaps the case in some other books that are more limited in their scope. Still, enough is included on the crime front to make it a compelling case.
The love-story element is also rather engaging, certainly not crossing over into anything like a mushy, romance-novel style affair. The love story works especially because it helps further the political thriller element, as the relationship between Leo and his wife really has to overcome many obstacles created by the repressive society they live in.
First and foremost, this book is a political thriller. And that is where a lot of Smith's efforts at high-quality writing shine through. Beyond the other two genres mentioned above, the book might also be of interest to those who like historical fiction.
I almost didn't finish this book I had just about given up on the novel as I couldn't stand reading any more about Leo and his blind devotion to The State. Since the demise of the Soviet Union I think we've forgotten just how horrendous the system was and how nightmarish it must've been during those years. Smith describes the paranoia and suspicion of the Stalinist era so well, one can feel the fear of the peasants and ordinary citizens coming off the page. Admittedly, the attitude that the minute someone was suspected they were guilty made me so mad I almost took the book back to the library BUT I persevered to the end and was very glad that I did. Altho the ending is a little contrived, I found the book overall brilliantly suspenseful and I hope to see more of Leo and Raisa in future novels....more info
Fantastic first novel This action novel is the most powerful psychological treatment of life under Stalin since Alexander Solshenitzin. If you wish to understand why Russians make great chess players, read this book. It is not about chess, but about the mental gymnastics required with every statement in a state where any statement can be punished....more info
Beautifully written and believable What a tremendous find! Beautifully written and believable, with several unexpected plot twists to keep the reader involved till the last page. I've already ordered and now read the author's next book....more info
A Multi-Themed Hit When I opened Child 44, I had just read a piece on the Holodomor, translated as "Hunger Death," the Stalinist-engineered genocide that may have claimed the lives of as many as seven million Ukrainians. Tom Rob Smith brings to life this little known mass murder in the prologue in a way that no history textbook can. This dramatic start sets the stage for the further killings by the Stalinist Secret Service and the serial killer that preys on children. Smith cannot be compared to le Carr¨¦; the styles are very different, with Smith perhaps being the better writer. His prose is simple, direct; yet, the complexity of all the characters is revealed unhurriedly. Just when the reader thinks he has grasped the motives of a character, Smith throws in new information that makes one reexamine an earlier premise. The red herrings are so subtle, and the suspense maintained until the end, that even die-hard mystery aficionados will be impressed. The writer juxtaposes the themes of fraternal love - real brothers and the brotherhood of Stalin's thugs - and the innocence of children. He depicts the brutality and evil of a totalitarian government alongside the story of a married couple for whom the relationship is defined, not by love and trust, but by survival. In Leo and Raisa Demidox, Smith has created two of the most memorable characters in fiction. This is a romance story turned on its head. Their bond and journey across western Russia is as riveting as that of Fenimore Cooper's Hawkeye and Alice. The writing never falters. This is a page-turner up to the satisfying conclusion....more info
Absolutely Fascinating! The reader is steeped in a world as strange as if it was another planet and not the Soviet Union in 1953. That gray bleak world seeps into your bones and then after it has, the plot develops around a murder. This is a remarkable book on two levels, the murder mystery and the life of characters in their strange and horrifying society. This is a must read that you won't put down....more info
Great Read! This book starts off a little slow and the mystery doesn't present itself right away. However, once you get into it, it's very difficult to put down. And the slow start is more than adequately paid off by the end of the book, so all told a great read with many twists and turns along the way. The only reason I didn't give it a five star rating was that it wraps up just *a little too* neatly....more info
Disappointing ending The first 300 pages were informative about life in Russia under Stalin and captured my interest. My enthusiasm declined during next 100 pages and the
last 100 pages were dreadful, full of ridiculous predicaments and very
far-fetched solutions. ...more info
Best fiction this year! Fantastic book! Set in 1950's Russia, the novel teaches the reader as much as most nonfiction novels can. Most of the book simply can't be put down. I have read more than 20 fiction books this year and it amazes me this did not make and stay on the top 10 bestsellers list. City of Thieves is also excellent but not quite as good. Can't wait for the authors next book....more info
How does he do it? We are not reading Hemingway or Fitzgerald here, or John le Carre -- yet, I have not recently read such memorable scenes and moments in a long time. The writing, his prose, flows but is not stylish or poetic, but it works, obviously. In fact, it seems to work by removing the author completely so that those who remain are vivid because of who they are, not who they have been created by. Congratulations, Tom Rob Smith.Child 44...more info
Gave it a second chance I stopped reading this book after the first 80 pages or so because it felt like a million other detective books I have read in the past. After months of being left on the shelf, and not being able to find something else to read, I decided to give it a second chance and I am so glad I did. While it is not perfect, and some of the situations the characters are put in are far fetched, the story itself is very engrossing. The characters are well developed and the history of Stalin's Russia is fascinating. If you are looking for a fast and easy read, I would recommend this book....more info
Makes Me Glad To Be An American I don't bother with reading fiction much; it usually takes too long. I checked this book out on a whim, and I was glad I did.
I'm an American born in 1972, so I have no idea what it must have been like to live in Communist Russia. If even half the things in this book are accurate depictions of everyday life during that era, I could never live there. Mr. Smith, almost from the get-go, makes the fear and paranoia of that era almost palpable; most decisions are based not out of any desire beyond living to see the next day, and the paralyzing inability for independent action boggles the mind. It is these things, more than anything else, that make this book worth reading.
I hope this gets made into a movie, because I would certainly see it....more info
Thriller as Literature Yes, it should be compared with Martin Cruz Smith's novels of inspector Arkady Renko in a good way. Child 44, like Gorky Park, is more thriller as literature and blows away the typical bestseller thrillers (the ones you typically see in the airport gift shop) with their clumsy writing and carboard characters. It also occupies its own space apart from the Renko books in its backdrop and the big questions it poses its protagonist. I read this eagerly and well into the morning. Highly recommended. ...more info
child 44 From start to finish, I could not put this book down. I could picture everything written. A real page turner. Buy it, buy it,buy it.
Amazing first novel For any author this would be an effort that should make them proud. But for a first novel it is stunningly mature both in the storytelling and character development.
I found it all too easy to relate to the characters and the sense of oppressive history that surrounded the story....more info
Good But Reminded Me Of Another Book I really enjoyed this book and I hope Mr. Smith writes more soon. If you liked this book then you will like the book Snow Wolf by Glenn Meade. It's a spy novel written in the mid 1990's--one of my favorite books. The two books are very similar in some ways even though one is basically a crime novel and the other a spy thriller....more info
A Great Debut Novel It is 1950s Soviet Russia. Stalin rules with a heavy Communist fist. Suspicion is everywhere and fear of the State runs rampant. In a society created to nurture equality, it is the government workers, the very people policing society and keeping Stalin's government in check, that have become the most corrupt.
When children begin showing up brutally murdered, their deaths are heralded as accidents - the blame sometimes easily ascribed to existing malcontents and other degenerates of society, wrongfully influenced by Western ideals, culture, and propaganda. Seen as a stain on the integrity of Russia and its politics, these men, already in disfavor and being monitored are quickly taken under false arrest and accused of murder Convinced that the deaths are not connected, scattered across hundreds of miles with little to no inter-city communications, the pattern of disease goes unnoticed.
But Leo Stepanovich Demidov, trained in the art of espionage, subterfuge, exquisite torture, and schooled in the maxims of Lenin and Stalin - taught to memorized and believe their tenets of a moral, unquestioning society - becomes suspicious after a recent interrogation subject refuses to confess to a crime he did not commit. Called guilty with no intention to prove him innocent, he is imprisoned and executed. Convinced of the man's innocence an aware of the dangers his sudden doubt in the State mechanism poses both for him and his family, Leo's world is suddenly turned upside down. Now, it's up to Leo and his wife Raisa to investigate matters of the cover up after his suspicions become threatening to the very foundation of the country he works for. In an attempt to atone for a lifetime of misguided wrongs, Leo pursues the connection to the crime of the murdered children, even as doing so risks the lives of the ones he loves.
Child 44 is a frightening tale of innocents and survival exploited under Stalin's dictatorship. Smith has a keen historical eye and a developed understanding of the inner workings of Stalinist Russia. At times the text was so saturated with paranoia and back-stabbing, the unfairness of it all became depressingly ridiculous. I wanted to reach into the pages and shake everyone awake to the reality of what they were perpetuating. My frustration though is testament to the power of Smith's writing. At times difficult to differentiate the quick switches in perspective from one paragraph to the next with no other demarcations, the narrative was overall enjoyable and engaging.
The story itself unfolded rather well with surprising twists, turns, and revelations that picked up about halfway through the novel. The characters of Leo and Raisa developed beautifully and with a care of such I haven't seen in a long time. Theirs was a romance believable in the odd context of circumstances which brought them together. I found myself exhilarated at their honesty and by the end of the novel, devotion and determination to hel peach other and pursue the future together.
I really enjoyed this novel and recommend it not just to fans of the thriller or crime fiction genre, but to everyone. After all, this is my first venture into that universe and it was a memorable journey. My thanks to Simon & Schuster UK for the lovely Christmas present!...more info
Engrossed til the end I found this book to be captivating in its richness for detail. I felt like I was transported to a different place full of intrigue and suspense, action and adventure, and a lot of heart and soul. This was definitely a book worth reading. ...more info
A remarkable page turner, or allegorical... Smith's title was recommended to me by a retired NCO, who like me,is fascinated by the excesses of totalitarian governments. He could not put the book down, he said. Well, I could, having extended family whose ethnic base was murdered off by the millions in the Ukraine. The cleansing of the population went on full bore,and we did not care,because they had no oil we could steal. I took Mr. Smith's tome more personal than a mere work of fiction. Then, there was my mother-in-law, who sent her relatives in Russia packages of army blankets and coffee, as if the commies would not steal whatever they wished and as if our own Uncle Joe McCarthy would not add her to his list as somone else who should be marched off to an American Gulog. But, as the story goes, Leo relentlessly pursed a hideous serial killer of children the state denied existed. And, I will not even mention the fantastic coincidence in the final chapters, or the killer's "motivation." And, then, the book ends happily ever after... Incredible!!! Now, as an allegory, suppose a country suspended its citizens' constitutional rights with some chuckled faced law such as the Patriot Act. Suppose the public is disarmed. Suppose education is taken over by No Child Left Behind nincompoops. Then, how much different will our position be than that of Leo's?...more info
A thrilling page turner... Outstanding book. I couldnt possibly say enough good things about this one!
For a 1st time author, Tom Rob Smith hit a grandslam with "Child 44".
"Child 44" is loosely based on the real life Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo (The Butcher of Rostov) who actually killed around 52 women and children.
The storyline in "Child 44" is completely made up, by that I mean it isnt the actual story of Chikatilo, but a fictional one based off his murders.
Awesome suspense, great action, great characters!!
The way he ties everything together at the end is amazing, you'll think you have some things figured out and realize you didn't, later in the book you'll start thinking you know the ending and you won't even be close!
Producer Ridlely Scott has already purchased the rights to the film for this book, cant wait to see this one on the big screen!
Great, great read, highly recommended to all & especially to fans of David Benioff's "City of Thieves"!
He aspires to someday write like Philip Margolin This is an example of a fascinating idea treated by a writer with little skill and less vision. The idea of a culture where crime doesn't exist because the state decrees it CAN'T exist is a great starting point, and Leo, the protagonist, is flawed enough to be vaguely interesting. But as a stylist Smith can't even tie Ludlum's shoes (let alone those of a competent writer) and as a serial killer novel it falls firmly in the bottom half of the genre.
I could go on about his Fiction Writing 101 errors for several pages, so let a few examples suffice. First, he blatantly steals an idiosyncrasy of Stephen King, taking a word or phrase out of context and italicizing it in a new paragraph before picking up the thread again. In King's hands this technique is a clever way to reveal the subconscious element of the narrative; when Smith employs it it seems wooden, artificial and self-conscious. Also, Smith's imagination is limited to the point of confusion--at one point he refers to a footpath by a river that "runs both ways". These points may seem picky, but they represent the dominant characteristics of his style--an accumulation of errors and poor writing that constantly distract from the plot.
And then there is the twist, mentioned by several reviewers, an unearned Dickensian moment that made me finally throw the book away in disgust. If you think Philip Margolin (with his one-black-Ferrari-for-every-ten-pages-of-a-book ratio) is the greatest writer of the last 100 years, then this book is for you. Otherwise, run....more info
Thriller? Read this book as science fiction or fantasy (and poorly edited as that). As far as describing Russian people's relationships and society, the book is sheer nonsense. Every page is riddled with implausible situations. Just several examples:
A vet opens an office close to embassies and treats diplomats' pets. [Neither medical nor veterinary doctors could have private offices. They always worked for the state and thus couldn't decide to open anything or treat whoever they wanted]
The state approved of war-time rapes by Russian soldiers. [Though no doubt the rapes happened, the state prosecuted the offenders who were caught]
A man says [and a militia man believes him] that he carries a knife because his wife insists on buying only cheap hard salami. [The hard salami was the most expensive kind, the most coveted. Salami was harder to find than any other type of sausage]
A collective farm chairman supports aiding and abetting a criminal by his entire kolkhoz membership. At the same time, the criminal is wondering if this kolkhoz has any Communist and regime sympathizers. [To be a kolkhoz chairman, one had to be a Communist party member. ]
But the following example will surely impress English teachers and any person who studied English in school: "Entering the farmhouse, the boy's body was gone." This is by Tom Rob Smith, a Cambridge University graduate no less.
Awesome Stay Up All Nighy Book Stunning depiction of life under Stalin and the mind contortions required for survival. A stay up all night plot, the convolutions are jaw dropping. Yes some of it may be unrealistic but I bet you read it to the end....more info
A Worthwhile Read Okay, a bit contrived but overlook that. Thius is a fascinating novel. I rarely sucumb to the idea that one can't put a book down but this one got me. The author puts you in a Russia that you may have forgotten about. It is chilling, exciting and memorable. Give it a shot....more info
Outstanding book. Superbly researched. Without being preachy or heavy-handed, the author captures the essential fear that maintained Soviet Communist control over millions of people, while at the same time he takes us through an engaging mystery....more info
Boring I'm a Soviet Area Specialist who studied the USSR, speaks the language, and visited there many times in the '60s and '70s. The history in this book is excruciatingly accurate, although the author's transliteration of Russian words and phrases leaves a lot to be desired. I'm now 135 pages into this thing, and I still have no clue that a crime (other than a "crime against the State") has been committed. I doubt that I'll go much more deeply into it.
Unless you're looking for something to put you to sleep, don't bother....more info
Decent thriller I was waiting for it to become the awesome phenomenal thrill ride I kept hearing about. Ultimately, it ended well but I'm not sure the build up really paid off. ...more info
One of the best debut novels in a long time I bought Child 44 based on a review I read in Publishers' Weekly, which was chancy for me because PW and I don't often agree on what's good and what isn't. But Child 44 is brilliant. We don't simply read about the Soviet Union at the end of Stalin's reign; we become IMMERSED in life in late-Stalinist USSR. We feel not only the cold; we feel the constant uncertainty of life; the reality that at any given moment we may be denounced to the powers be by anyone, including our children, and will be sent to one of the prison camps in Siberia where the life expectancy is very, very short. The author's decision to create a main character who works for the agency that is the forerunner of the KGB, to make that character a major player in that agency, and to make him a sympathetic character despite all this was a gutsy, chancy decision, but it works brilliantly.
To discuss the plot in much of any detail would ruin the book for most readers; I will say that I'm old enough to be rather jaded when it comes to suspense/thriller/mystery/horror genres, and very little surprises me -- but this book blew me away. I really thought I had it all "figured out", and as it turned out, I was wrong, wrong, wrong. The ending is stunning, horrifying, and completely unpredictable, but it ties all the different threads of the book together in one shocking moment of frightening realization, and another moment of decision that no matter what the main character does to attempt to resolve the situation, he will be wrong, no matter what that decision is.
Dostoevsky would have loved this, as would Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak, and the novel is of such complexity and drama, as well as unexpected twists, that it will likely be ranked, if not with these Russian literary giants, with important contemporary books about the Soviet Union. I honestly didn't want the book to end and read it straight through.
The writing is good, the author's conceit works, the history is accurate, and we feel the emotions of ALL the characters, not just the protagonist. So we have a good book, a good writer, good writing and accurate history, all mingled with the horrors that only human beings can perpetrate, and one great eclat of realization, a stunning climax, and the weight of its aftermath.
I honestly can't think of a single reason why anyone should NOT read this book. It's wonderful. I hope the author can pull off the same quality and honesty and drama when his next book appears -- which I hope will be soon, but not TOO soon -- the pressure of absurd deadline dates all too often end up making a really good writer churn out novels that aren't worth the reader's time. I really hope he's got a good agent, a good publisher, and a contract that will allow him to write another dazzling book.
So, in a word, READ CHILD 44! And give kudos to Tom Rob Smith for a terrific debut novel that deserves literary awards, whether or not he gets them....more info
Reasonably Good A reasonably innovative crime novel set in the Soviet Union in the early 1950s. The plot, involving a search for a serial murderer, is moderately innovative. The hero is a secret policeman and loyal servent of the state who inadvertantly stumbles across the trail of the murderer. Somewhat against his will, the hero becomes a Chandleresque seeker for truth in a society where looking for the truth is very, very hazardous. While the murderer's motive is somewhat contrived and the quality of writing awkward, Smith makes a sincere effort to portray the ghastly nature of life in the Stalinist Soviet Union. ...more info
Wonderful Debut Novel In Child 44, author Tom Rob Smith depicts the life of a MGB police officer, Leo Demidov, in Stalinist Russia. In the 1950s, Russia was a worker's paradise. Everybody made the same amount of money, everyone had access to healthcare and everyone had a home. All the government asked for is loyalty in the state and work.
Leo is very well-off in Moscow. He holds one of the most powerful positions in the police force; he has a beautiful wife, Raisa, one of the nicest apartments in town, and access to the best healthcare and exotic foods. He is a believer in the state and the communist system. In his opinion, it is superior to the democratic systems in western nations. Why should he not believe so if he has everything he needs?
As a police officer, it is his duty to follow through on investigations and apprehend all suspects. While some suspects are guilty, the majority are innocent, perceived guilty by the paranoid Soviet government because of their interactions with Westerners or connections to others who have been apprehended for crimes. Crimes against the government are much worse in the government's eyes than petty, civil ones. The police do everything in their power to capture the suspects alive. The suspects are then taken to Moscow and are tortured until they confess to the crime. This torture can be in the form of seizure-inducing medication, confinement in a dirty closet where bedbugs eat human bodies alive, or other terrible methods. At this point they are forced to name other people, often friends or family, who were involved in their criminal activity. The suspects are then killed and the people they mention are incarcerated.
Everything goes well for Leo until his wife is charged with espionage. Leo is placed in charge of the investigation as a test to prove his loyalty to the state and has to make a very difficult decision. If he agrees with the charge, then his wife will be arrested and most certainly killed. If he disagrees with the charge, then he will put his life in jeopardy as well as his family's life. He would lose all of his material goods. Leo decides to go against the charge, and is exiled with his wife to a town in the middle of the country, Voualsk. A number of factors precipitated this decision. First, Leo's wife, Raisa, had claimed she was pregnant when she ate dinner with Leo's parents. Second, Leo loves Raisa very much and believes that she loves him too. While both are upset at leaving their material possessions behind, they are pleased with the relatively mild punishment they are given.
Voualsk is a small town where car manufacturing is the dominant industry. These cars were designed by Russians who believed that they could make a car that is superior to Western models. Unfortunately, only the most powerful people in the country are eligible to own one, the government workers. Voualsk is surrounded by a dense forest which is covered in snow most of the year.
In Voualsk, Raisa and Leo move in above a restaurant and begin work. Raisa continues her past job as a school teacher and Leo becomes a militia subordinate. When Leo explores the forest surrounding the city he notices that a few children have been murdered and mutilated. String is wrapped around the body, dirt is placed in the mouth and the stomach is removed. He notices a coincidence to an unsolved case in Moscow, where his friend Fyodor's son was murdered. The government decided the case was not worth investigating and was just and accident. Realizing the implications of having a child-murderer on the loose, he makes his mission to find the culprit and kill him/her. He believes this is something worth fighting for as he had made many mistakes as an MGB officer. Soon other people join the search: his wife, his boss, Fyodor, and several others. This task is especially dangerous because Leo is under heavy surveillance and he is trying to prove the state justice system fallible. From here on, a harrowing adventure ensues to find the killer and kill him.
I would highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in historical fiction. Smith accurately depicts the gloomy lifestyle Stalinist Russia. The short chapters and twists and turns keep the reader engaged for long periods of time, an indicator of a great story.
A Young Novelist Delivers a Novelistic Masterpiece--Child 44 Child 44 was published with great critical acclaim, so much that I, someone who normally doesn't read suspense novels, was intrigued. The novel, written by a young recent graduate of Cambridge, deals with a MGB agent Leo and his wife Raisa during Stalinist Russia.
The fascist regime tests Leo's loyalty by giving him a choice that has the cruel magnitude of the story of Abraham: Denounce his innocent wife as a traitor, which will result in her execution, or he and his wife can live, but they will be stripped of their middle-class jobs and be exiled as peasants in the Russian rural countryside. Leo cannot denounce his wife, so she and he must languish in squalid conditions.
It is while living in the countryside that they become aware that there is a sociopathic serial killer on the loose. But what offends the State is not the serial killer; rather, the idea that crime could exist in their "utopia." The government covers up the crime and would rather live in denial as innocent children are killed, but Leo and his wife, the novel's heroes, have other plans.
The novel's tone, happily, avoids the clich¨¦ of most suspense novels. The Stalinist world is concretely rendered as are its cruel machinations, which some would call "Kafkaesque." Somehow this young author has written a masterpiece. Aspiring crime and suspense novelists, and even published ones, have good reason to be jealous. Highly recommended. ...more info
Review Leo Stepanovich Demidov is a member of the MGB, the State Security Force for the Soviet Union and one of MGB's top investigative detectives. When it comes to loyalty, Leo is the most loyalists of men. He serves his country well and for that he is rewarded handsomely. In a country where any talk of disloyalty whether it be from reading a book or talk of being a traitor, can be punishment by death.
Suddenly Leo finds himself in a moral situation. He is put in charge of investigating his wife, Raisa. Accusations have been made against Raisa saying she is a traitor to her country. Leo now has to make a choice whether he turns his wife in like a good agent or stand up for him and his wife. The choice is obvious. Leo gets demoted to the lowest of lows when he is sent away to be part of the militia. His duties now consist of him cleaning prisoner's cells. When the body of a fourteen year old girl is found with her mouth filled with dirt and her intestines ripped out, Leo believes this was no accident but indeed a murder. He starts investigating and what he discovers is more heinous than anything Leo could imagine.
I kept seeing Child 44 showing up everywhere on the web. People were saying good things about this book. I am proud to say I too can't stop saying wonderful things about Child 44. This can only be achieved by an author like Tom Rob Smith. Mr. Rob Smith fused this book with such raw emotions of love, loyalty, loss, and trust. When you take a character like Leo, who experiences all of these emotions at the same time you end up with something truly amazing that will leave readers talking about Child 44 for a long time to come. I know I will. Child 44 is Tom Rob Smith's first novel. He should be proud of it. I give this book five stars and if I could give it more I would. I anxiously await his next novel.
blame it all on stalin ye gods, what a silly book! Every detail is so flatly one-dimensional that the book reads like a smoothly written cartoon. I could see that this story was based on the bare fact of the existence of the Russian serial killer Chikitilo, but that merely supplies the plot point. There seemed to be no first-hand knowledge of life in the Soviet police state. Each poor citizen was an automaton wound up to run at maximum paranoia & all people are set against one another, to the point of uniformly being willing to turn in others for ideology or profit. In the midst of this hell on earth, a love story grows between those whose eyes have opened (or were always opened). No person's character is plausibly developed, male characters are linked by love or buried desire, and the story falls apart into a painfully absurd, hackneyed solution.
The book seems to stitch together political anti-communist tracts, movies, and thrillers (Hitchcock did it so much better!) with detective novels and paranoid fiction of every sort. Slick writing ¨¤ la TV plots, a lack of concern for human beings, and voil¨¤: a novel.
There is neither social reality nor social redemption in this shallow book....more info
This should be a beat seller!!! I keep waiting for the world to wake up and figure out that this deserves to be a Top 10 best seller. I can't imagine a more engrossing debut novel....more info
Great other than the twist... I'm not typically a reader of "thrillers," although I don't know why because I usually find them quite entertaining. Child 44 was the first I've read in a long while, and definitely didn't disappoint. I don't want to say it was educational for me about Stalinist Russia, because, as I said, it's a thriller and so I can't really expect everything in it to be 100% factual, but...it was. I'd never really put myself in the perspective of someone who lived in such a world, and oh boy did it sound brutal, and terrifying. All I could think through much of the book was, "People really lived like this?" and "How did they not revolt against this?" But, of course, history tells us that people will live for centuries suffering incredible injustices and brutality. I can't say it didn't make me feel incredibly lucky.
Child 44 follows Leo, a somewhat high-ranking member of the MGB during the height of Stalinist Russia. His job involves arresting "traitors" to the country, who, as we know now, were usually just innocent people trying to survive, accused of crimes they never committed and sentenced to the Gulags or death. A concept promoted by the communists was that crime didn't exist in Russia, because everyone has the same possessions (in itself a lie, considering the higher ranking you were in the government, the better housing you got, not to mention access to better clothes and food) so there is no need for crime. Leo's boss tells him to go speak with a coworker whose child was recently killed in a "tragic accident" while the child was playing by the train tracks. The coworker and his family believe their child was murdered, and claim a witness saw the child walking and holding hands with a strange man shortly before he was killed. Leo must convince the family to stop their requests for investigation--after all, there is no crime in Stalinist Russia, so no one could have killed their son. It was clearly a tragic train accident. While Leo views this current assignment as an annoyance and a distraction from his current surveillance of a potential enemy of the state, it winds up having far-reaching consequences for him. When Leo's wife is accused of being a spy, and the couple is sent away in disgrace to toil at a remote factory village, Leo discovers that other children all throughout Russia have been killed in a similar fashion as his former coworker's child. The discovery--coupled with the false implication of his wife--causes Leo to lose faith in the Russian government, and sets him on a course to discover the serial killer. But he has to act before government officials discover what he's doing and arrest him for treason.
The biggest complaint about this book is the "twist" ending, and I can't say I disagree--it's kinda lame. And it felt relatively unnecessary. I was satisfied with Smith's brutal look at Stalinist Russia, and the story of a high-ranking MGB official who loses his faith in communism while investigating a serial killer who the government wants to pretend doesn't exist. I didn't need the extra "connection" thrown in by the twist. But, that said, the twist only comes at the very end, while the rest of the story is quite good. As a thriller, it did its job--I was excited to read the book every night; the chapters flew by, the action was mostly fast-paced and it was difficult to put down. I'd recommend this to anyone who wanted an entertaining, if very dark, read.