Tom Rob Smith’s first book, Child 44
, enjoyed unprecedented attention and acclaim (as did its youthful author), so it was inevitable that the appetite for that novel’s successor would be keen. Now it’s here, and The Secret Speech
, largely speaking, lives up the promise of its Fleming-Dagger-winning predecessor, despite being a very different book: Ex-MGB officer Leo Dormidov returns and becomes involved in a narrative so incident-packed it makes the earlier book seem positively sedate.
The most memorable thing about the first novel, of course, was the moral transformation of the hero, initially a charismatic tool of the brutal state apparatus, enforcing the Stalin-era edicts with grim efficiency until he becomes hunted rather hunter and earns some hard-won humanity. Part of the point of Child 44 was the protagonist’s journey of character – so how to follow this, when Leo has become a human being by the end of the first novel?
The Secret Speech performs this tricky balancing act by taking the reader back to 1949, with Leo the unreformed agent of the state, behaving with the callousness he once possessed before his life was turned upside down. We are then taken to the mid-fifties, after the death of Stalin (as cracks begin to show in the totalitarian Soviet State). Khrushchev’s famous denunciation of the Stalin era ushers in significant changes, and Leo Dormidov (along with his wife Raisa and their daughters) are in danger, as the power of the police is undercut – and, in fact, the police are now identified as enemies of the state. This is only one of the dangers that Leo faces: there is now a ruthless enemy on his trail – as ruthless as Leo was himself in the days of his authority and acclaim.
There is no denying that the bracing innovation of the first book (in what is to be a trilogy) burns at a lower wattage here – that’s inevitable – but Smith is too adroit a writer not to keep us comprehensively gripped (breathless, even, as climax after climax is piled into a crowded narrative). --Barry Forshaw
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'TOM ROB SMITH, 30 His first novel, Child 44, appeared on last year's Booker longlist. Worked his magic again with The Secret Speech this year' LONDON'S BEST YOUNG WRITER'S, Evening Standard 30/4 'An epic journey across the blasted Siberian landscape to the dreaded Gulag 57. As with Child 44, Smith's historiography is exact and his early career as a scriptwriter shows in his feel for the necessary rhythms of plot. The feints, bluggs and reveals keep it all rattling along' The Herald, 25/4 'The follow-up to smash-hit Child 44 is also set in post-war Russia and follows investigator Leo Demidov from that book as he attempts to protect his family from someone with a grudge against him. VERDICT: As good as Child 44 *****' Heat 16/5 'This second outing for the conflicted former Soviet law enforcer Leo Demidov shows that the proposed trilogy of novels will be something special... Smith has spoken of his admiration for Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim, in which the protagonist has to atone for collusion with evil. That book is a template for Leo's ordeal in The Secret Speech, and if the comparison seems grandiose, one has to admire Smith's ambition. The moral conflicts just about keep pace with the tension in a narrative packed with a dizzying mass of incident' Barry Forshaw, Independent 13/5 'The central Leo-Fraera-Zoya triangle, interdependent though enemies, is brilliantly conceived and the scenes featuring them are invariably vivid' Sunday Times 8/6 'Riots, plane crashes and a steadily building body count make this one very packed and chilly ride' Book of the Week, Mirror 10/4 'Violent actions follow relentlessly on every page. This is a tragic portrait of Russia's brutality. The novel is good, and it's good for you too - educational and informative. But you need a strong stomach for it' Literary Review April issue 'Following his debut child 44, The Secret Speech follows former war hero Leo Demidov and his family as they try to survive the collapse of society in post-Stalinist Russia. A powerful page-turner' GQ, May issue 'A relentless cold-war thriller set during Stalin's dying days, Child 44 focused on the efforts of officer Leo Demidov to track down a serial killer despite a state ideologically insistent that crime couldn't exist in a utopian society. Avowedly commercial, feverishly executed and soaked in the violent paranoia of Soviet Russia, it won readers acclaim and a place on the Booker longlist...he's just published the follow-up, The Secret Speech. Stalin is dead, Krushchev is in power and Leo and his wife Raisa are struggling to bring up the two orphaned girls they adopted at the end of Child 44. Krushchev's reform and rapprochement policies provided Smith with a ready-made historical backdrop for examining ideas of guilt and repercussions' Interview, Metro 9/4 'In a market saturated by production-line thrillers, Child 44 stood out like Hannibal Lecter at a serial killers' convention... its sequel maintains the momentum . .. If it's thrills you are after, this book delivers. It's a great piledriver of a read' Charlie Higson, Guardian 4/5 'Tom Rob Smith is patently a talented writer with a rich and complex period to explore' Louise France, Observer 5/5 'As a study of betrayal at every level The Secret Speech is masterly. It brilliantly portrays a society stripped of every element of love, trust and respect; compassion is a weakness to be exploited and denunciation is accepted with resignation...Read this and shiver' Sunday Telegraph 5/5 'This is a fast-paced...action thriller set in an exciting period' Peter Millar, The Times 28/3 'Smith paints a chilling picture of post-Stalinist Russia, and never lets the pace flag as Demidov tries to save his family from foes out for vengeance' TheLondonPaper 7/4 "Remarkable... In Smith's hands [the] scenes attain a pulse of exhilaration worthy of Dickens by way of Conrad...a broadening of moral scope and thematic richness...rendered with passionate and indelible precision." Dennis Lehane 'Former secret police officer Leo Dormidov goes from hunter to hunted. He knows what to do to save his family, but is it possible? Ace' The Sun 12/3