06 November 2014

Review: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Child 44 by Tom Rob SmithToday 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 raised.

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.
Published by Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing, 2008
ISBN-13: 9780446402385
Source: Review (audio & print) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Sandy Nawrot 11/6/14, 8:03 AM  

The same narrator comes back and does the second and third book in the series as well. I loved this book. The second book was awful. The third was better, but not as good as this one. They have completely different feels to them. Love that dude's accent though! Did you know that they are making this into a movie, and that cool guy from The Killing is in it.

Unknown 11/6/14, 8:16 AM  

I loved this one on audio too! I think I listened to a different version as I don't think mine was abridged - it definitely went on for more than 12 hours! Glad you finally got around to discovering how good it is!

Beth F 11/6/14, 8:24 AM  

@Sandy -- good to be warned about the other two books.

@Jackie, the audiobook said it was unabridged, so I hope it really was.

Karen Harrington 11/6/14, 9:02 AM  

I loved this book and have now read all of Smith's novels, including his latest THE FARM.

bermudaonion 11/6/14, 9:03 AM  

I read this book when it first came out and was blown away by it. I agree with Sandy, though - Smith hasn't written anything that comes close to it since then.

Beth Hoffman 11/6/14, 10:44 AM  

Where have I been? I don't recall hearing about this book, but it's now on my list!

rhapsodyinbooks 11/6/14, 11:22 AM  

I agree with Sandy; this is the best of his but they kind of go downhill from here.

Bernadette 11/6/14, 5:53 PM  

Agree that this is a fantastic book. Also concur with Sandy that the other two aren't worth it - like her I thought the second book absolutely awful, the third was not quite so bad but still a mere shadow of Child 44. If it were me I'd keep this one as a standalone read

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 11/8/14, 7:57 AM  

I have this on my TBR list - added it after reading Smith's The Farm. Now I'm even more excited about it after reading your review! I'm fascinated with life in the Soviet Union (or any country in the throes of Communism - I just read a memoir about North Korea) and this whole premise sounds so unique. I wasn't blogging when this one came out and it completely missed my radar screen.

Katherine P 11/8/14, 10:48 PM  

This sounds horrifying but compelling. I'm glad to hear that about the audio. I know very little about the Russian language so if I'm able to get the audio it will be to nice to know that inflections are what they're supposed to be.

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