Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

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How to buy it: Paperback, Qbd the Bookshop, $19.99

When can I get my hands on it: Now!

What am I in for: Communism, Cover ups, Murder, 1950s USSR, Detectives, Spies

In Stalin’s Soviet Union, crime does not exist. But still millions live in fear. The mere suspicion of disloyalty to the State, the wrong word at the wrong time, can send an innocent person to his execution.

Officer Leo Demidov, an idealistic war hero, believes he’s building a perfect society. But after witnessing the interrogation of an innocent man, his loyalty begins to waver, and when ordered to investigate his own wife, Raisa, Leo is forced to choose where his heart truly lies.

Then the impossible happens. A murderer is on the loose, killing at will, and every belief Leo has ever held is shattered. Denounced by his enemies and exiled from home, with only Raisa by his side, he must risk everything to find a criminal that the State won’t admit even exists. On the run, Leo soon discovers the danger isn’t from the killer he is trying to catch, but from the country he is trying to protect.

A bit of a slow starter, Child 44 is the first book in Tom Rob Smith’s Leo Demidov trilogy. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this series, and after finishing the first book, I’m still on the fence about the first installment.

Based on true events surrounding real life serial murderer Andrei Chikatilo aka The Rostov Ripper, I lost interest at the start and it wasn’t until Leo had been reprimanded for his actions in relation to another case where things started getting interesting. When Arkady was found dead, when the MGB denied Russia had any murders at all, let alone serial child murders.

Child 44 is a sort of literary thriller. It isn’t full of the usual cliches and buzzwords and general corniness associated with thriller novels and I thought the setting of 1950s USSR was somewhat unique. The snow and misery added a multitude of feeling to the book, not to mention the cloud of communism that hung overhead the whole way through.

Character-wise, Leo was a great protagonist, especially when I usually don’t get along with my protagonists, I felt he was humble, loyal, dedicated, sensitive and vastly intelligent. His wife Raisa on the other hand, a refugee of the war with a special hatred for her country was painful. She thought she knew so much about the State when at every turn, each decision she made led to disaster. She was a pretty bad judge of character, but I am glad for how things turned out in the end, she came to some kind of sense.

I don’t know that I liked this enough to continue reading the rest of the series, but I must admit, I am very intrigued to see where Tom Rob Smith can take this. I don’t know if he will continue to use actual serial killers as material, but Leo is looking like being Captain of a new homicide squad and that could lead to a very interesting turnabout in Russian policing for the purposes of the story.

Also, that twist, expertly done. Despite the fact that I tuned out a little in the middle of the audiobook, where most of the hint dropping is done, that twist was still a massive surprise.
Excellent, but not amazing, the narration was good and the writing above average. Its a maybe on the rest of the series.

Final Rating: 4/5

-Sam xxoo

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