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Child 44by Tom Rob Smith
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Set in the Soviet Union in 1953, this stellar debut from British author Smith offers appealing characters, a strong plot and authentic period detail. When war hero Leo Stepanovich Demidov, a rising star in the MGB, the State Security force, is assigned to look into the death of a child, Leo is annoyed, first because this takes him away from a more important case, but, more importantly, because the parents insist the child was murdered. In Stalinist Russia, there's no such thing as murder; the only criminals are those who are enemies of the state. After attempting to curb the violent excesses of his second-in-command, Leo is forced to investigate his own wife, the beautiful Raisa, who's suspected of being an Anglo-American sympathizer. Demoted and exiled from Moscow, Leo stumbles onto more evidence of the child killer. The evocation of the deadly cloud-cuckoo-land of Russia during Stalin's final days will remind many of Gorky Park and Darkness at Noon, but the novel remains Smith's alone, completely original and absolutely satisfying. Rights sold in more than 20 countries. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
British screenwriter Tom Rob Smith's first novel builds on a surefire premise: In the old Soviet Union's hermetically sealed climate of terror and conformity, where the official reaction to unpleasant facts and people is to pretend they don't exist, the serial killer is the ultimate nonperson. Everyone believes no one man could repeatedly elude the all-embracing system, and the local branches of the... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) MGB, the state security force, aren't in the habit of sharing data or pooling efforts. The Russia of 1953, then, is a happy hunting ground for those who murder again and again. Until, that is, Leo Demidov, a cop with a conscience, defies the establishment. Leo has noticed circumstances common to several cases of child-murder in multiple locations: Whoever is killing the young victims stuffs their mouths with tree bark and excises their stomachs. If Leo had any sense, he would not attempt to tie the cases together. Officials would like him to butt out because they've already pinned the crimes on assorted misfits and can't admit their decisions were rushed and wrong. Leo's wife, Raisa, who has never loved him, wants no waves to be made. Thanks to a rival in the force, she and Leo have already been sent to the boondocks. His parents have lost their roomy apartment because of their son's fall in stature, and if Leo meddles further, they might be sent to a gulag. So we have the appealing setup of a bullheaded man taking on a cruel but jittery regime, headed by a sick, aging dictator whose paranoia has driven him to declare war on Jews and doctors. Tom Rob Smith's strength is evoking the perversity of a world in which form always trumps substance. When Leo finds the body of a murdered boy that fits the pattern he's been piecing together, he can't do what should come naturally: convene a meeting of interested police chiefs. He must proceed with great care because a mentally handicapped man has already confessed to a similar murder. "Confessions were the bedrock of the judicial system," Smith explains, "and their sanctity needed to be protected at all costs." Leo's revelation would also "mean that a criminal case would be opened without any suspect: a criminal case against persons unknown" in a system that refuses to ask questions to which it does not have the answers. Smith also has a nice feel for the do-anything resourcefulness tapped by the desperate. During a long sequence in which Leo and Raisa (who are stitching up their frayed marriage) try to keep one step ahead of their pursuers, the couple almost outdo the hero of Geoffrey Household's classic thriller "Rogue Male" in obtaining tools and weapons from unlikely sources. As the chase goes on, the close calls pile up so fast that at times the reader may feel manipulated, but Smith is a skilled manipulator. He is not, however, a skilled stylist. Participles dangle ("Excited, the blade went in further and faster" ); words are misused ("He no longer believed that they would be designated a better residence"); pronouns are left vague ("To Leo's surprise the prisoner reached up and, with his wrists still bound, felt his brow" — it's hard to be sure, but I believe the brow being felt was Leo's). Nor does Smith do justice to his main character. We are told (by Raisa, among others) that Leo is abandoning his "blind faith in the State," yet the fellow we've seen has been a cynic from the start. Had Smith provided a scene or two in which Leo displays or even talks about his early idealism, his later heresy would have some poignancy. As it is, the disillusionment seems merely convenient. The book's final twist is contrived, and few serial killers in literature have offered such a daffy explanation for their crimes as the one in "Child 44." The extra turns of the screw seem to have been dictated by the philosophy that you can't give the audience too many thrills and surprises. I beg to differ. The bad guy here need not have been someone oh-my-God special, but just a creep taking advantage of the situation — a workers' paradise with an unwitting friendliness to crime sprees — that Smith has so effectively depicted. Reviewed by Dennis Drabelle, who Dennis Drabelle is a contributing editor, and the mysteries editor, of The Washington Post Book World, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Leo Stepanovich Demidov, the hero of Tom Rob Smith's sensational debut thriller, Child 44, seems to have stepped out of the pages of a classic by Hammett or Chandler....Smith's prose is propulsive but plain; his real genius is his careful plotting. (Grade: A-)" Entertainment Weekly
"[A] debut novel from a shockingly talented 28-year-old Brit....Nerve-wracking pace and atmosphere camouflage wild coincidences. Smashing." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Child 44 powerfully personalizes the Orwellian horrors of life in Stalin's Russia....First-novelist Smith's pacing is relentless; readers wanting to put the book down for a brief rest may find themselves persevering regardless....Don't miss it." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Child 44 is a remarkable debut novel — inventive, edgy and relentlessly gripping from the first page to the last." Scott Turow, bestselling author of Presumed Innocent
"An amazing debut — rich, different, fully formed, mature...and thrilling." Lee Child, New York Times bestselling author of Bad Luck and Trouble
"Achingly suspenseful, full of feeling and the twists and turns that one expects from le Carré at his best, Child 44 is a tale as fierce as any Russian wolf. It grabs you by the throat and never lets you go." Robert Towne, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Chinatown
"This is a truly remarkable debut novel. Child 44 is a rare blend of great insight, excellent writing, and a refreshingly original story. Favorable comparisons to Gorky Park are inevitable, but Child 44 is in a class of its own." Nelson DeMille, New York Times bestselling author of Wild Fire
In Stalin's Soviet Union, it's a crime against the State to suggest that a murderer — much less a serial killer — is on the loose. Exiled from his home, a war hero must find and stop a criminal that the State won't admit even exists, in this instant bestseller.
About the Author
Originally from Norbury in South London, the 28-year-old Tom Rob Smith started writing plays in school and continued while he attended Cambridge, from which he graduated in 2001. After spending a year in Italy on a creative writing scholarship, he became assistant story editor for a British soap opera, then moved to Phnom Penh with the BBC to be the story consultant for Cambodia's first soap opera. He currently lives in London.
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