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Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

It’s Stalin Soviet Union 1953, crime does not exist but doubts and accusations are. 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, a veterinarian doctor, his loyalty begins to waver, and when ordered to investigate his own wife, Raisa, a suspected dissident, Leo is forced to choose. Choose Raisa, and Leo’s parents will be sent to Gulags and left to die. Choose to denounce and Raisa, and Raisa will die.

Entering the main corridor, Leo wondered how it would feel to be led down to the basement with no leave to appeal and no to call for help. The judicial system could be bypassed entirely. He taught himself to accept that these things existed not just for their own sake. They existed for a reason, a greater good. They existed to terrify. Terror was necessary. Terror protected the Revolution. Without it, Lenin would’ve fallen. Without it, Stalin would’ve fallen. Fear was cultivated. Fear was part of his job, and for this level of fear to be sustained it needed a constant supply of people fed to it.

Leo fell from grace and was posted to a village called Voualsk. Pursued unrelentless by arch enemy Vasili, Leo knew his time is limited. In Moscow, Leo was sent to cover up the death of Officer Fyodor’s son whom the family suspected that their son Arkady was murdered. In Voualsk, heeding the call for justice, Leo decided to investigate the murder of several children all over Russia. The murder trademarks are the same, the children are subject to gruesome murder, emptied of internal organs and snared by a rope at the ankle. The murders always happened near railway stations of towns scattered along the train line from Voualsk to South of Moscow, in Rostov, where the crime is most concentrated. Arkady was Child number 44 murdered. But the state will not admit the crime exists. The crimes are solved by torture and false confessions, choosing scapegoats responsible for the crime. To investigate the crime is to go against the Soviet Union’s authority. With only Raisa on his side, and General Nestorev, Leo risks everything to find a criminal at loose.

On the run, Leo discovers the danger isn’t from the killer he is trying to catch, but from the country he is trying to protect………………

I hardly read thriller, and have no desire to be spooked or feel revolted by descriptions of murders, especially one that involves children. So when my co-worker told me Child 44 is good, (the co-worker who loan me two books, one of whom I abandoned (The American Wife)!), I decided to give it a go.

It’s one of the first multi-dimensional character development thriller I have ever read. The hunt for the murderer did not picked up until half way through the book, but the first half of context settings is absolutely necessary.

Ratings: 4.5/5

Not only did it turn out to be a roller-coaster ride, it was unputdownable and action-packed to the max. Set in a grim, hopeless political setting, harsh weather and poverty, I put my hearts out to the characters who suffered many persecutions; I learnt from the meticulous research of the judicial system and organisation of Stalinist Russia; And then I am pulled into the emotional turmoil and trust issues of Leo and Raisa’s marriage. I relate to Leo’s pain of having to choose between duty and conscience. I was swept away by the near-death adventures and actions, cheering Leo all the way to achieve his objective amidst insurmountable obstacles. And then I was caught by surprise by the many twists and hidden secrets of Leo’s past. (Wow!)

This edition is filled with pages of accolades, Stalinism Statistics and Writer’s interview on using Andrei Chilkalito as the muse for his story’s serial killer.  One review says it all for me, “To have your book optioned for a film is not unusual. To have your first novel chosen is slightly more so. But to have your first novel, written when you are barely 30 years of age, picked by Gladiator director Ridley Scott.. well, that does make people stand up and take noticed. A tale of redemption but deliciously laced with a gritty, grimy undercurrent of repression and harsh Soviet reality. It is an accomplished, smoothly-told tale’ – Daily Express.

I wouldn’t want to forget the twists and plot about this book, for that I have to quote two names that will help me remember the end of the story in the future: Andrei Trofimovich Sidorov and Pavel Trofimovich Sidorov.

Read the book, and find out what it means.

About the writer and the book:

Tom Rob Smith (born 1979) is an English writer. The son of a Swedish mother and an English father, Smith was raised in London where he lives today. After graduating from Cambridge University in 2001, he completed his studies in Italy, studying creative writing for a year. After these studies, he worked as a scriptwriter.

His first novel, Child 44, about a series of child murders in Stalinist Russia, appeared in early 2008 and was translated into 17 languages. It was awarded the 2008 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller of the year by the Crime Writer’s Association. It was recently a Barnes & Noble recommended book. On July 29, 2008 the book was named on the long list for the 2008 Man Booker Prize. In November 2008, he was nominated for the 2008 Costa First Novel Award (former Whitbread). In July 2009 he won the Waverton Good Read Award and British Book Award, Galaxy Prize winner for first novels.

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


8 thoughts on “Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

  1. This sounds so good! I am so adding it to my Amazon wish list! I didn’t know about it before, so I am thankful to you for bringing it to my attention!

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | November 30, 2009, 2:29 am
  2. Excellent review of an excellent book. I listened to it earlier this year and it was one of those I couldn’t wait to get back to each time. I can’t remember another book where I went from hating a main character at the beginning to loving that same character to bits by the end. I am wary of reading the second book in what is supposed to be a triliogy – it’s called The Secret Speech and I just don’t know if I want to read it as I doubt it can possibly be as good. But I will get around to it eventually.

    Posted by bernadetteinoz | November 30, 2009, 4:02 am
  3. Russian history is such a rich source of narrative juiciness. Also, this Tom Rob Smith looks way too young and attractive to be a writer, but I suppose that’s how the world is going these days 😛

    Posted by Elena | November 30, 2009, 8:37 am
  4. LOL @ Elena. i thought it was a sign of my advancing years that meant I noticed how terribly young he looks (and sounds – I heard him interviewed a couple of months ago).

    Posted by bernadetteinoz | November 30, 2009, 10:04 am
    • Hahaha You guys are funny…. juicy Russian history and juicy Bloke makes a juicy read! 🙂

      Jill, you bet, go get a copy right now!
      Bernadette, thanks! My colleague told me the 2nd book “Secret Speech” is too gory for her to stomach. I’m waiting for you to read it first, and if you say it’s worth a try, I’ll take the plunge!

      Posted by jovenus | November 30, 2009, 8:57 pm
  5. Eeeek – the pressure! I am anticipating a copy for Christmas though so will have a go at it in the new year. I am curious enough about Leo to close my eyes at the gory bits 🙂

    Posted by bernadetteinoz | December 1, 2009, 8:50 am
  6. I have seen hardbacks of this book on the 80 percent off table in stores here in Manila-based on your review the next time I see it I will buy it-

    Posted by Mel u | January 31, 2010, 10:50 pm

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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