I'm venturing into the department of Why Didn't I Read This Sooner?
Like many of you, I sometimes purposely hold off reading highly buzzed
books because I'm so often disappointed when my expectations have been
Tom Rob Smith's debut novel, Child 44, was an Indie Next pick for April 2008 and everyone was singing its praises. As a consequence, I pushed the hardcover book to the back tier of the shelves and kind of forgot about it . . . until this week, when I was looking through my audiobook backlog.
Here are my thoughts in a Bullet Review.
- What's it about? There is no crime in Stalin's Soviet Union, but there are traitors to the state, and they are discovered through their actions, which range from reading the wrong book or saying the wrong prayer to being dissatisfied with one's rundown apartment. Only crazy people and spies commit murder. For the everyday citizen, the slightest misstep means torture followed by execution, life in the Gulags, or manual labor under conditions so horrific that life expectancy is counted in months. When Leo Demidov--war hero, model citizen, and MGB officer--dares to suggest that there's a serial child killer at work in the Soviet Union, his world is turned upside down: his family is punished and he's demoted and exiled to a village near the Ural Mountains. Because he cannot let the murders continue, he begins to play a dangerous game, balanced between doing what's right morally and doing whatever's needed to avoid arrest.
- Fascinating, scary details. If only one-quarter of what Smith described about conditions in the Soviet Union in the early 1950s were true, that'd be bad enough. Even the most trusted officers in national security lived without reliable heating and plumbing, little fresh food, and shoddy products. It was every person for himself; there was no one to trust--not your parents, your spouse, your child, or your siblings. Basically, you were never safe, never secure, and never without fear, no matter who you were or where you lived.
- Plotting, pacing, writing, characters. No wonder Child 44 was nominated for 17 awards, winning almost half of them, and no wonder the novel was optioned for a film (now in postproduction and scheduled for a 2015 release). Smith created memorable characters in stark, unforgettable situations. It's almost creepy how well he described the ease at which the killer could lure children to him, especially because Soviet children were never taught to be cautious around strangers. The tightly spun thread of tension, the heart pounding action, the accurate historical details, and the uncertainty of fate and luck work together to create one hell of thriller mystery.
- Recommendation. Even if you don't normally read mysteries or thrillers, even if you think you don't want to read about Soviet Russia, you really do want to read Tom Rob Smith's Child 44. It's worth every bit of praise it's gotten. And you know you want to read it before the movie comes out.
- Audiobook. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 12 hr, 24 min), read by Dennis Boutsikaris. I loved everything about Boutsikaris's outstanding performance: the pacing, the tone, the subtle drama, and the characterizations. Because my grandfather was a native Russian speaker, I'm fairly sensitive about western Russian accents; fortunately, I found Boutsikaris's accent and inflections to be very believable. All in all an outstanding audiobook.
Source: Review (audio & print) (see review policy)
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