Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44:

Child 44My reading habit seems to be taking over! This morning, Booking Through Thursday nearly made me late for work and last night I couldn’t go to sleep until I’d finished Child 44 – yes it’s one of those!

I’ve been waiting to read Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 since it came out and Simon (Savidge Reads) had given me a copy of the hardback edition, but going travelling for 3 months and packing light meant that it had to wait a while! Now I’m glad that I waited because Tom Rob Smith’s new novel The Secret Speech, is out too so I’ll be pouncing on that when it comes out in paperback.

To be honest, I’m not going to go into a great level of detail on the plot because this book has some powerful twists and turns and I don’t want to give anything away. Here’s the official blurb to give you a taster:

In Stalin’s Soviet Union, crime does not exist. But still 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, his loyalty begins to waver, and when ordered to investigate his own wife, Raisa, Leo is forced to choose where his heart truly lies. Then the impossible happens. A murderer is on the loose, killing at will, and every belief Leo has ever held is shattered. Denounced by his enemies and exiled from home, with only Raisa by his side, he must risk everything to find a criminal that the State won’t admit even exists. On the run, Leo soon discovers the danger isn’t from the killer he is trying to catch, but from the country he is trying to protect.

Child 44 is classified as a thriller. It definitely is thrilling – a real page turner – but I think it’s worth adding that it really stands out in a class of its’ own in terms of writing quality and the way that the characters are developed. We follow the central character Leo throughout the book, with a front row seat to his thoughts and his actions. He’s a complex character. Having always been loyal to the government, he’s done more than his fair share of torture and killed whenever it was deemed ‘necessary’ by the state. But here’s the thing…he has these heroic qualities and as you follow him throughout the novel, you can’t help but like him in spite of that. Perhaps he’s the Soviet equivalent of Jack Bauer (sorry I’m a bit of a 24 geek!).

I feel that one of the things that Tom Rob Smith does really well is creating moments of tension between people so clearly that the reader feels like a fly on the wall. The complex relationship between Leo and Raisa (his wife), Leo’s first encounter with the family of a murdered child, a strange situation with Ivan a schoolteacher friend of Raisa’s. These moments are brilliantly described with acute observation of human behaviours especially that of frailty.

His prose is excellent too, drawing just the right balance between description while keeping the fast moving flow of the narrative. The passage I chose for my Tuesday Teaser is a perfect example of this I think:

“The man’s face fluttered as if she’d tossed a stone onto the surface of his expression. For a moment she saw something beneath his bland, plump appearance something unpleasant, something which made her want to look away. But the gold kept her looking at him, kept her in her seat.”

This is a dark, gripping and beautifully written novel which captures a very similar sense of dread to that of George Orwell’s 1984 which makes sense given the context. This novel is supposed to have been based on real life murders that happened in Stalin’s Soviet Union, but don’t look that up until you’ve read it, as Child 44 is such a good read that I feel you really should enjoy it as it is without too much preliminary research.

Has anyone read The Secret Speech yet? What other thrillers have you read that combine an ability to make you turn the page with high quality writing?

10 responses to “Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44:

  1. Glad that you enjoyed this so much it is a brilliant book. I am going to stay schtum on The Secret Speech which I have read but don’t want to give any thoughts or clues away about. Looking forward to what you think of it when you read it!

  2. I didn’t love this enough to make The Secret Speech a must-read, but I did like it quite a lot. I actually read this at around the same time I was listening to 1984, which made the questioning scenes all the more chilling.

  3. I’m listening to the audio book version of this at the moment and I am very impressed (it won thriller of the year at this year’s Audies)

    I often struggle to find good thrillers. The writing is often poor and the plot too simple. My favourite thriller is Out by Natsuo Kirino and I also love Sophie Hannah, but I’m struggling to think of any other good ones – let me know if you find one!

    • I haven’t listened to audio books since I was little, although I loved them then. The Magicians Nephew got worn out I played it so much! I’m thinking it might be a good idea to listen to a few books though instead of reading as sometimes it’s easier to iPod on the tube than hold out a book to read in cramped conditions! I’m keeping my eyes peeled for a copy of Out in secondhand shops as I enjoyed Grotesque (which isn’t supposed to be as good!).

      I love a bit of Tess Gerritson for thriller novels – it might be worth giving her a go although they are quite American in feel which you might not like if you’re looking for something different…

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