With so many new books in the crime and thriller field vying for our attention, alert readers need all the help they can get. In the case of Tom Rob Smith's Child 44
, the numerous glowing reviews were preceded by a lively word of mouth on the book. The latter can often be misleading, but not in this case -- this is a very exciting debut. It is set in the Soviet Union and in the year 1953; Stalin's reign of terror is at its height, and those who stand up against the might of the state vanish into the labour camps or vanish altogether. With this background, it is an audacious move on Tom Rob Smiths part to put his hero right at the heart of this hideous regime, as an officer in no less than the brutal Ministry State Security.
Leo Demidov is, basically, an instrument of the state -- by no means a villain, but one who tries to look not too closely into the repressive work he does. His superiors remind him that there is no crime in Soviet Union, and he is somehow able to maintain its fiction in his mind even as he tracks down and punishes the miscreants. The body of a young boy is found on railway tracks in Moscow, and Demidov is quickly informed that there is nothing to the case. He quickly realises that something unpleasant is being covered over here, but is forced to obey his orders. However, things begin to quickly unravel, and this ex-hero of state suddenly finds himself in disgrace, exiled with his wife Raisa to a town in the Ural Mountains. And things will get worse for him -- not only the murder of another child, but even the life and safety of his wife.
Tom Rob Smiths beleaguered hero is a protagonist who we know will (at some point) have to rebel against the totalitarian state he works for. But it is the suspense of waiting for this moment as much as the exigencies of the thriller plot that makes this such a compelling novel. --Barry Forshaw
"An amazing debut - rich, different, fully-formed, mature ... and thrilling." -- Lee Child
"CHILD 44 is a remarkable debut novel - inventive, edgy and relentlessly gripping from the first page to the last." -- Scott Turow
"CHILD 44 telegraphs the talent and class of its writer from its opening pages, transporting you back to the darkest days of post-war Soviet Russia with assured efficiency and ruthlessly drawing you into its richly atmospheric and engrossing tale." -- Raymond Khoury, bestselling author of THE LAST TEMPLAR and SANCTUARY
"Child 44 contrasts the bleakness of Stalinist Russia with a love story that unexpectedly and ironically blooms only because the lovers are nearly crushed by a relentless totalitarian regime hell bent on their destruction. As the two attempt to solve a series of brutal child murders the government is determined not to acknowledge, they must avoid being killed themselves in a simultaneous flight and pursuit across the wintry Russian landscape. Achingly suspenseful, full of feeling and of the twists and turns that one expects from Le Carre at his best, it's a tale that grabs you by the throat and simply never lets you go." -- Robert Towne
"This is a truly remarkable debut novel. CHILD 44 is a rare blend of great insight, excellent writing, and a refreshingly original story. Favorable comparisons to GORKY PARK are inevitable, but CHILD 44 is in a class of its own." -- Nelson DeMille