Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Child 44

by Tom Rob Smith, Grand Central Publishing, April,2008

 ...a great book for mystery fans- highly recommended!

A neighbor handed me this book with a great recommendation.  He was so right.  This is a taut, chilling mystery set in Stalinist Russia.  Leo Demidov, who works for the State Security Service, is a war hero and a believer in the communist state.  As the story opens Leo is charged with explaining away the murder of a co-worker’s child (in communist Russia the state is “crime free”).  Ever dutiful, he carries out this task, despite his desire to work on a more serious case of a defector.  The paranoia that existed is post war Russia is palpable in this story.  There is no one who can be trusted – coworkers, neighbors and even spouses are capable of spying and denouncing. Because Leo has tried to control the savagery of his second in command he is then charged with investigating his wife, Raisa for Anglo-American sympathies.  In the investigation he refuses to denounce her and is demoted and exiled from Moscow.   Leo and Raisa barely escape Moscow with their lives.  Their marriage appears irreparably damaged by Leo’s actions during the investigation. At this point the serial killer plot starts to develop.  The state refuses to recognize that someone is murdering children but Raisa and Leo with the help of ordinary citizens mount an investigation knowing that these actions will doom them.
The plot summary I’ve given really doesn’t convey how good this story is.  The author has done a remarkable job of creating the setting of Stalinist Russia and the fear of being arrested for saying (or even thinking) the wrong thing.  He has conveyed the absolute hopelessness that marked this era.  Leo is a very believable character.  He is far from the standard detective hero, more an anti-hero; he has done some horrible things for the state and is now penitent.   In the 1950s there were still a significant number of Russians who thought that communism was the answer to the chronic poverty and hunger that had challenged Russia.  Leo’s gradual loss of faith in this system is documented throughout this story.  His relationship with his wife Raisa matures as the story progresses and in the end is very credible and convincing.  The serial killer story (based on a real life Russian serial killer from the ‘80s) is excellent.  The tension that develops as Leo and Raisa attempt to prevent the killer from taking another child is palpable.  This is really a page turner.  I will even forgive a bizarre twist at the end of the story. That twist really strained credibility and wasn’t necessary to make this a great book for mystery fans.  Highly recommended!
I read a copy of this book borrowed from a friend.

1 comment:

Carole said...

What great first novel from this author. It really was wonderfully written, evoking the Russian time and place, and a real page turner too. Can't wait to read his next book.