It’s not often that I find a book that I can find no fault with – no really, I may read a lot, but there will always be something that rankled me. However, I can safely say – Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith is an outstanding novel. Whilst I may be firmly in the Jo Nesbø camp for crime thrillers, Child 44 has quite simply blown him out of the water. I have my friend Mr Punch to thank for recommending Tom Rob Smith (however, I’ll have to apologise – I didn’t read the book he actually suggested), and I’m really pleased that I dipped my toe.
Child 44 is set in Russia during the height of Stalin’s reign of terror during the early 1950’s. It is the story of Leo Demidov, a State Security Agent who is determined to go against the system – risking both his life and the life of everyone he loves in order to gain justice and catch a child serial killer.
Using his characters, their situations, their thoughts and feelings, Tom Rob Smith paints you a stark and discomforting picture of life in Stalin’s Soviet Union, pulling you in, making you sense and feel it…gives you an understanding of the mind-set and then BAM! Shoots you straight into a tale that is so addictive and brilliant that you will come round hours later, dazed and wondering what the hell happened… I can’t stress this enough – I’ve never known a novel that immerses you so vividly into the paranoia of the day. I’ve heard my family talk about it, but this book truly brings it to life.
I don’t think I’ve fallen as much in love with a character for years as I did Leo Demidov. He’s a flawed character and morally ambiguous (yes I said it) who is sure that what he does is absolutely right and justified. Even so, when we meet him at the start of this story things do niggle at him. Is that man they are chasing truly guilty? And even if that is the case, is what he did deserving of death? Cleverly, things happen around Leo that start to ingrain those doubts. So when he is faced with denouncing his own wife, events really do start to overtake him.
Meanwhile children are dying. For each dead child there is an explanation and a handy guilty party – the similarities are glossed over, ignored and deleted, because of course there IS no crime of that nature in this place. It just doesn’t happen. Right? Wrong says Leo and sets off to prove so – thereby putting all he holds dear in jeopardy and taking us, the reader, on a fast paced, utterly compelling race against time across the bleak landscapes and dangerous settings that make up the world he lives in.
The best part of this book for me was the relationship between Leo and Raisa, a beautifully drawn and surprisingly emotional at times glimpse into a marriage that may not be all it appears at first glance…wonderfully developed into a living breathing thing over the course of the novel, this is one excellent reason why I am overjoyed to discover that there are further books in the series.
An epic tale, a heart stopping conclusion and a fantastic plethora of twists and turns, this is one of the best novels I have ever read that could be described as “crime”. What I would call it is storytelling genius.
Remember: “Trust but check. Check on those we trust.” So trust ME…then check…
As a postscript, the film has just been released; however, I’m not so sure I’ll watch it just yet – I’ve heard reports of dire Russian accents. My lover will attest to my horror of appaling Russian accents..
Oh, and apologies for the “film” cover of the book – I also despise those (I’m not on the film bandwagon).
The Knitty Gritty:
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (ISBN 978-1-4711-3347-3)
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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – John le Carre
The Redeemer – Jo Nesbø