I don’t know why I haven’t read Tom Rob Smith’s debut sooner as it’s a book I have been meaning to read for ages. Maybe I was worried that after all the brilliant reviews, and all the discussion on the Booker Nomination, that I might be left disappointed? It could also be the fact I had the hardback copy and they tend to be slightly put of when I am doing a lot of travelling, though I actually read this partly on a train journey. I think in all honesty I was slightly worried that I wouldn’t be able to grasp or be interested in Stalin’s Russia, boy oh boy was I wrong. I couldn’t stop turning the pages let alone put the book down.
Child 44 is set in the 1950’s Soviet Union. A child is found dead with what appears to be soil in his mouth and his family are sure that this is murder despite the boy’s body being found on the train tracks. Leo Demidov of the MGB is sent to cool things over and persuade the family that this is nothing more than a tragic accident, a job he does begrudgingly as he feels it is taking his time away from his more important work. However when Leo himself goes through some very changing circumstances and another body of a child with soil in its mouth is found he begins to realise that there may be a serial killer out there.
Behind what is a very intriguing, if gruesome and quite dark, storyline is also the tale of Russia in the few years leading up to Stalin’s death. Russia is a place plagued with paranoia where the innocent are guilty and bad can be innocent if they go about things the right (or technically wrong) way. I was shocked reading this novel at just how corrupt people where and just how many people were slaughtered needlessly and made guilty without any way of fighting to prove their innocence. Leo himself is one of the people who imposes the regime and believes in it, until the regime turns against him and those he loves. I know this is fiction but it is clear Tom Rob Smith has done his research meticulously as the setting was so well written I could feel the cold icy snowy air around me as I read the book, and no, I didn’t just have the windows open. It became all became very real to me and when I had finished the book I went off to do much more research on the era.
One thing I have to say is what a wonderful character I thought Leo was. I was determined not to like him in the first few chapters and especially after a torture scene. He is a man hardened to life who though he loves his wife and family is more loyal to his country than anything else or anyone else who gets in his way. You wouldn’t think that a character like that would become enjoyable to read. However soon enough I was on the breathless never ceasing adventurous journey with him. Adventure sums up this book pretty well too, and you can see where Tom Rob Smith’s own love for Arthur Conan Doyle comes in, it’s a page turner but not in an airport lounge shop sort of way if you know what I mean.
There is quite a lot of gore in the novel and a few very uncomfortable scenes but their needs to be for the story to work. I can’t say that a book about a child killer is an easy or enjoyable read as its not, but it’s an incredible read non the less. My only slight dislike was the speech in italics, I have never personally liked that though I found myself forgiving it and will undoubtedly do so in the next novel The Secret Speech which I am looking forward to enormously. I didn’t think that this was written like a film screenplay (though it is being made into a film) though if it had been it wouldn’t shock as that was what Tom Rob Smith did before he turned his hand to novel writing. I thought it was a sparse engrossing book that deserves all the awards its been put up for and more.
Now for some very EXCITING NEWS! I am going to be interviewing Tom tomorrow (at his house – what biscuits should I take?) and so I wondered if any of you have any questions for him? This is open to everyone whether you have read the book, heard about the book, or would just like to ask an author anything at all? If so leave your comments and I will see what I can do!