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3.9 out of 5 stars
The Secret Speech (Unabridged)
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 28 March 2010
I loved Child 44. Smith (or should it Rob Smith? Perhaps it should; calling someone "Tom Rob" makes them sound like they're straight out of Deliverance) created both a taut thriller as well as a utterly believeable recreation of Stalin's Soviet Union - the fear and suspicion of life in those terrible times. So I was really looking forward to the follow up.

Stalin has died, and Kruschev taken over. Kruschev makes the secret speech - denouncing the crimes of Stalin and tentatively signalling a freer era. And Leo Demidov, our hero from Child 44 returns. He is investigating the murders of former secret police personnel, when he gets drawn into a web of intrigues, conspiracy and, well, action.

The atmosphere is as good as in the first book, but the action is perhaps the issue. There's a bit in Moscow, and then they move several thousand miles east and more happens and then they go somewhere else entirely and more happens. And the travelling almost makes it feel like different things thrown together. I can't quite put my finger on why, but it doesn't quite work. Maybe all of the jet setting makes it feel like a 50s James Bond on a lower budget. It's all highly readable, and very enjoyable, but it's just not as good as child 44.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 14 December 2009
As with many second books (especially sequels) this one doesn't measure up to the first (Child 44). Mostly this is because so much psychological karma related to Leo and Raisa was used up in the first book. Leo who had gone from an unthinking automaton (and perpetrator of torture) to a pained reality of what he had done, could never be as powerful a character as he was before.

The Secret Speech refers to Nikita Krushchev's indictment of Stalin at the CPSU Congress in 1956. At that time he accused Stalin (and therefore the Party and the State) of the torture (and forced confessions)and persecution of innocent people. That it was done for no other reason but to cull anyone who might become a threat to Stalin and to cower the rest of the population into unthinking obeyance of every government command.

Krushchev's denunciation of Stalin, therefore accused all who were involved and part of the Great Terror (1936-1939) and those (the MGB and KGB) who ran the Gulag. The Party could NOT admit that it had made a mistake and Krushchev was eventually overthrown in 1964 by a coup d'etat led by Brezhnev and Kosygin. Most western historians tended to believe Krushchev because he had been the leader of the Ukraine SSR and a member of the Politburo during most of the last twenty years of Stalin's reign.

The weakness in the book is Leo's invariable ability to work his way through some of the worst parts of the Gulag and survive. The time on the prison ship and the personality of the camp commander are hard to take at face value. Leo (with Raisa) being able to escape the Soviet Union and venture to Hungary in itself (even though he has the help of a powerful KGB general) is too fantastical. Then the number of coincidences that occur ask the reader to ignore too much to make the last part of the story possible. The semi-happy ending at the end is in itself totally implausible.

Zeev BM Halevi
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 7 March 2012
I do find it fascinating how people's opinions can be so polarised. For me this is another excellent book, with Child 44 being slightly better, but that is very very difficult to beat, and well worth reading.

The plot does move around a lot but there is still a strong reason for this, and as the story unfolds it makes sense and fully accords with the sense of paranoia and extreme measures that were necessary in Russia in the 50s. Personally I felt that all of the action added to the suspense and didn't in any way detract from it.

Seeing as quite a few people having read, and enjoyed, Child 44 didn't enjoy this book I clearly can't guarantee that you will enjoy it, but I know for sure that I couldn't put it down and enjoyed it from start to finish. I think the best thing to do is just to forget about your expectations and read it and allow Tom to take you on his journey.
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60 of 67 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 26 December 2009
I adored Child 44 and as soon as I'd finished it immediately ordered this follow-up in hardback. It had only been out a matter of weeks but by the time it arrived it was already in its 5th printing. Which just goes to show . . . what exactly?

Because bluntly, in comparison with Child 44 this book is dreadful. The only weak point in Child 44 was a contrived 'action' sequence on a train. Now I can almost imagine the conversation between Smith and his dumbed-down, know-nothing publishers as, flushed with the success of a first novel they exhorted him to write another 400 pages of the same kind of action, certain that this - as opposed to any kind of literary merit - was the winning formula. To see all Smith's undoubted writing potential thrown away like this is as heartbreaking as this book is unreadable. And to think that this is the same writer who was actually nominated for the Booker prize!

In the end this isn't so much of a novel as a comic without the pictures: the narrative is rushed, the characters implausible and the dialogue, far from giving us insight into character, creaks instead with often undigested dollops of history so obviously lifted from the research material.

I couldn't wait to finish this book. Tom Rob Smith is capable of so much more and if I were him I'd be making it my new year's resolution to stop hanging around with the wrong crowd and get in with a new set of literary people who can instead nurture and promote this writer's obvious talent and ability. If he does (and only if he does) will I be the first in line to buy his third novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 October 2009
This is a fascinating and riveting book which plunges the reader into post-Stalin Russian society. Everyone appears to be under the Government's scrutiny and trust is a fickle and malleable entity.

Leo, an ex-MGB officer is tormented and made to suffer for his past misdeeds. He travels the length of Russia and Eastern Europe in an attempt to save and rescue his reluctant adopted daughter.

I was very pleasantly surprised when reading this book, as when I initially picked it up to begin with, I was unsure of what to expect. What I found was a gem that was terribly addictive which I read in two sittings. This is a deeply engrossing crime thriller, ideal for those interested in post-Stalin Russia. For others looking for their next read, try this book, I am sure you will not be disappointed.

This book made me realise just how glad I am that I didn't have to live through this period.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Set in Russia not long after the death of Stalin this story follows the political fall out from a speech given by Stalin's succesor Kruschev denouncing Stalin and the brutal acts carried out by peolple in his name. In Stalins Russia almost everybody was complicit in the often violent oppression of those judged either rightly or wrongly to be enemies of the state. The main protagonist of this story
Leo Demidov has hands more bloody than most. As a previous member of Stalin's secret police he has condemned many innocent people to torture, imprisonment and execution. He cannot escape his past and a price will be exacted.

Tom Rob Smith has done his research and this book convinces in detail. A great thriller which leaves you understanding a little more about recent Russian history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 December 2011
I nearly didn't buy this book due to the bad reviews here, but the first one was good enough to give it a go. I'm glad I did! The negative reviews seem overly harsh, it's not as good as the first book but definitely worth the time spent reading! It has lots of good ideas and it's well written, however the action movie stuff is a little overdone admittedly. I think the author maintains all his credibility and I look forward to the paperback release of the third book. If you are wavering after reading the reviews here, I strongly suggest you read this book for yourself and make your own mind up.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 20 January 2010
What an amazing book, a great follow up to Child 44. I cannot recommend this writer enough. An absolute star.
Have contacted him via his web site and he is working on book three, as yet untitled, and it should be released in 2011.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 23 January 2010
Bitterly disappointing sequel to the fantastic Child 44.

This book is awful. Simple as that. What Tom Rob Smith achieved with Child 44 has been wiped out by this poor follow up. Whilst there are interesting ideas in the book, it's a mish-mash of scenes and doesn't flow particularly well...one wonders if the words 'film rights' have been mentioned to the author and he's thinking movie adaptation.

I truly wanted to love this book as I did Child 44, but alas there is no substance. Will give great consideration to ever reading this author again.
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on 7 June 2012
As with many reviews, Tom Rob Smith's first novel, Child 44, really caught my eye with a very unique & clever way of writing, backed up by a level of knowledge & research that I've never seen before (Although, admittedly, historical fiction isn't my most read genre).

Those same elements are present in The Secret Speech, along with the fantastic characters from Child 44. Leo Demidov grows throughout the story, much as he does in the previous book & yet never loses the traits that mark the original character, & his relationship with his family is explored well, forming the main drive of Leo. That same drive again holds the reader as you follow Leo.

And yet there is something missing. The Secret Speech lacks the edge that Child 44 had, almost as if the author held back, trying not to overdo it while still trying to put a lot into the story & offer a big plot.

My problem is the sense of timescale, or lack of. Leo seems to go from Western Russia, to Eastern Russia & back in a matter of days, a rather implausible concept considering the events that happen in between. I can see this being an area of weakness for Tom Rob Smith as Child 44 displayed some of the same problems at times.

I think the under lying issue is that this feels to much like a plot for two books that's been condensed & squished into one. However I enjoyed revisiting the well-developed characters Tom Rob Smith created & with a better sense of time & a bit less urgency in the plot then this would be a very good follow up rather than an adequate one.
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