How do you fix the mistakes in your life? When you are Leo Demidov, a disgraced member of the Soviet MGB and you are responsible for capturing, sentencing and killing untold numbers of regular people, people who are just trying to survive under Joseph Stalin’s oppressive regime, the question is hard to answer. Leo’s epiphany comes late. His wife, Raisa already hates him. He’s been demoted to the militia, a low-level assignment. He’s lost his privileges and has more than a few enemies. Leo and Raisa have almost nothing. They can only survive by staying together.
Someone is murdering young children, leaving their bodies to be discovered. The government claims to solve the murders as individual cases, but Leo sees a pattern and he knows someone is still out there, planning another attack.
That’s the premise of Child 44, the first book of Tom Rob Smith’s thriller trilogy. It’s also a soon-to-be-released film, due out in April 2015. The storyline is based on the murders of Andrei Chikatilo, who was convicted of fifty-two murders of women and children in the Soviet Union.
I enjoyed reading this fast-paced book. Smith does a nice job developing a suspenseful plot and good characters with uncertain alliances and motives. Survival is the word in Child 44. It dominates the thinking of all the characters, the ones with power and the ones who have nothing.
Smith tells a story about the serious business of tracking down a monster, but this is not a heavy book with complex characters. Despite Leo’s moral dilemma, it’s a quick, plot-driven story and an entertaining read.
I liked the dynamic between Leo and Raisa, who in some ways becomes the dominant character. She’s a strong force and reminds me just a little bit of Lisbeth Salander, who is the ultimate in female strength in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Steig Larsson.
Smith’s writing style is interesting. He writes in simple sentences, with an overlapping repetition of facts, which drives home his point about the desperate conditions in the Soviet Union under Stalin. The one thing I do not understand about his writing is his overuse of “would’ve,” “should’ve,” “could’ve,” and “might’ve.” They’re everywhere and someone should’ve told him to cut back! Maybe he is using these contractions to establish a trademark style as a suspense novelist. To me, it seems contrived and takes away from the polish of the rest of the book.
Smith ties the story together neatly, with a slightly open-ended ending, preparing you for the next book, The Secret Speech. Some readers may not like the way it all works out, but I think that’s an accepted part of the genre.
So all-in-all an enjoyable and quick read. I’m looking forward to the movie!
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