Category Archives: Tom Rob Smith

Tom Rob Smith’s The Secret Speech

The Secret SpeechAfter reading Child 44 and loving it, and subsequently going to see Tom Rob Smith as part of the Wimbledon Book Fest, I was very much looking forward to reading the follow up book – The Secret Speech. So much so in fact that I bought a HARDBACK copy new, which I never do although it is nearly half price at the moment on Amazon so I suppose it wasn’t too much of a hardship!

So before I tell you what I thought here’s the blurb to give you a taster:

Soviet Union, 1956: Stalin is dead. With his passing, a violent regime is beginning to fracture – leaving behind a society where the police are the criminals, and the criminals are innocent. The catalyst comes when a secret manifesto composed by Stalin’s successor Khrushchev is distributed to the entire nation. Its message: Stalin was a tyrant and a murderer. Its promise: The Soviet Union will transform. But there are forces at work that are unable to forgive or forget Stalin’s tyranny so easily, that demand revenge of the most appalling nature. Meanwhile, former MGB officer Leo Demidov is facing his own turmoil. The two young girls he and his wife Raisa adopted have yet to forgive him for his involvement in the murder of their parents. They are not alone. Now that the truth is out, Leo, Raisa and their family are in grave danger from someone with a grudge against Leo.

I had mixed feelings about The Secret Speech. I found it just as compelling as Child 44 and enjoyed the grim details and quality of writing just as much  as well as being re-united with Leo and Raisa. The plot was fast, and it was a brilliant page-turner to the extent that I was even gripped when reading through several chapters set on a boat, which along with submarines is a setting I usually can’t abide. I also found the time period in the change from Stalinism to the new leader Khrushchev interesting and thought it was a good starting point around which he developed the level of tension and violence that began in the first book.

However, and there are a few howevers. I found a couple of the key characters intensly irritating. I think they were supposed to be complicated people but I just found them annoying and wanted them killed off. I also found the plot slightly implausible, but this didn’t detract from it being very entertaining.

I think this had the sense of very much being a follow-up book for me. Unlike Child 44 which I waxed lyrical about I felt that to an extent this was ‘just’ a page-turner albeit a well written and constructed one. Also in some instances it felt as if it had been written with cinematic intent, but that may just be me speculating wildly and that in itself is testament to how much I was caught up in the book and how visual the scenes were. I’m glad that I read The Secret Speech because I enjoyed it. It completely carried me away into another world and if you enjoyed the key characters in the first book you’ll want to know what happens next. I’ll certainly read the third book and will be interested to see if it can pack the same punch for me as Child 44 did.

Have you read any of Tom Rob Smith’s books? If so what did you think? What do you think is the key to writing a good sequel?

Tom Rob Smith – Book Event and Q&A

I enjoyed a culture-packed Saturday with Savidge Reads. After a matinee of the rather fantastic and risque Matthew Bourne dance production of Dorian Gray, we went off to see Tom Rob Smith talk about his life and work as part of the Wimbledon Book Fest.

I was excited to have the chance to go along to hear Tom Rob Smith as I absolutely loved Child 44 which for me it was the perfect thriller – pacy, dark, gripping and… well written! I haven’t been to such a formal book event as this before and I thought that it was very well organised with a good turnout and some interesting questions from audience members. I took some sneaky photos on my iPhone of Tom looking thoughtful;
Tom Rob Smith

and animated!

Tom Rob Smith 2Tom began by telling us about how he went from being a scriptwriter for Family Affairs to writing a thriller set in communist Russia. Here’s a YouTube video of him talking about the origins of Child 44 in case you want to know more:

Some of the bits of information that I found really interesting were about his chosen writing style for the book. He talked about how being a scriptwriter had taught him to be aware of his audience and that when writing for a soap you had to make sure that there was always a hook at the end of each 15 minute interval before the ad break. Having found Child 44 utterly gripping, I can see how he has translated this knack into writing in his novels.

The audience were very keen to find out about his research and how he had made his characters so ‘real’ – avoiding the pitfall of making it feel too far away in the past. Tom spoke about how he had to find a balance between research and writing – starting with 3 months worth of research but then getting down to writing and editing back, when he learned new things or needed to change. This emphasis on just getting down to it, is probably why the novel is so readable and fluid as opposed to being a turgid historical tome which it could well have been. He said that he had kept the writing style as modern as he could – for example he resisted the use of patronymics for the Russian characters and deliberately kept their names short in order to make them memorable to the reader and allow the focus to be on the plot rather than the detail. I think that this approach is what makes Child 44 so believable and gets you right into the head of the character and the context so easy to understand and visualise.

It was brilliant to hear Tom Rob Smith talk about Child 44 and his journey in writing it, plus I got my copy signed which I am feeling a little bit smug about. I will definitely be looking out for book events like this in future.

If you want to read more about Tom Rob Smith and his work here are some links:

There you go. Links galore! Have you been to any good book events or Q&A’s? What do you think the value of hearing an author speak about his or her work is?

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?