- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd; First Edition edition (6 April 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1847371280
- ISBN-13: 978-1847371287
- Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.6 x 23.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: 380 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 514,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Secret Speech Hardcover – 6 Apr 2009
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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
'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... Smith's vision of the past skilfully enables the reader to imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever, and the fact that the boot is worn by the victim's children opens up a fresh hell unimagined by Orwell. Stalin's stock seems to be rising in Russia again. Read this and shiver.'
-- Sunday Telegraph, March 29 2009
'As in Child 44, Smith's plotting is elaborate, and his pacing is relentless. His characters are wonderfully drawn, and the near-nonstop action is utterly gripping. Again, as in the earlier book, however, the author's greatest success is in personalizing the stunning tragedy and brutality of life for many millions of Russians. The Secret Speech is a harrowing novel, but everyone who loved Child 44 will leap to read it'
-- Booklist, February 15 2009
'Smith's ability to summon the paranoia and tumult of the post-Stalin period in all its dingy glory is truly astounding...His characters, from the relentless Leo, to the petty criminals who populate the underworld, to a lonely guard aboard a frozen prison ship, are perfectly formed. His depiction of dismal Soviet society feels uncannily real, and his taut plot barrels onward like a loaded prisoner train headed for the Gulag. Finally, Leo is a fantastic creation: relentless, decent and wonderfully complicated.'
'A superb thriller, full of pitch-perfect atmosphere.' -- Kirkus Reviews, April 1 2009
'This is a fast-paced...action thriller set in an exciting period...' -- The Times, April 3 2009
'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 2009 Edition
'Tom Rob Smith is patently a talented writer with a rich and complex period to explore' -- The Observer, April 5 2009
`The Secret Speech is the keenly anticipated follow-up to Rob Smith's first novel, Child 44, which won 2008 Best Thriller of the Year from the Crime Writers' Association. Fans will be happy to find that Rob Smith has evaded the dreaded second-novel syndrome to produce another tense, masterful and lip-biting read.' -- The Independent 50 Best Summer Reads
`Tom Rob Smith has created another insanely exciting story, while making you feel you're learning a bit of history along the way'
-- Suzy Feay, Independent on Sunday
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Set three years after Child 44 and after Stalin's death. I liked that both this (and the previous novel) are based on real events, it's a period of time I knew very little about and the author successfully manages to set his story to a realistic politically tense time in history.
The 'secret speech' has been made by the new leader Nikita Khrushchev in a bid to put the violence and torture of Stalin's regime behind him and the country. This is good news, a new and more fair way to live except that not everyone believes so and there are many who, in following the old regime, feel under threat. In this novel though, they have more to worry about than the change in itself...there appears to be some victims who are happy to turn the tables on their former oppressors and make them fear for their and their families lives!
I liked the premise, the setting and large parts of the story but I just didn't feel this novel was as gripping as Child 44. I had moments during this one where my thoughts drifted and didn't absorb the text as well as it should have. Character-wise, some of them were lacking in realism, seeming unbelievably 'soft'. There were too many predictive outcomes which was a shame because I especially enjoyed in the first book that it WAS unpredictable, Rob-Smith didn't seem scared to pull the trigger on some of his characters. This in contrast was a little too 'tidy' for me.
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.
It feels as though Smith was forced to produce this too quickly after the success of his debut novel. The story did not flow particularly well, and I felt as though characters that should have been interesting and well developed were just not. I have still given it 3 stars because I did enjoy certain scenes and Smith's distinctive style is still visible through the noise and do wonder if I'm being a little harsh due to my aforementioned expectations.
I am hesitant about reading Agent 6, so have decided to read something else for now , though I am sure that I will not be able to leave it for too long before curiosity gets the better of me.
One thing about these books is to expect the unexpected. Like the first book it is full of suspense, horror and mystery and provides an appreciation of life after Stalin (which I knew nothing about until I picked up the 1st book). I have not read many historical fiction based in Russia and this has more than sparked my interest - so I will be reading some more.
An excellent read and I think that Tom Rob Smith is a brilliant and very clever author.
I have just started book 3 and am already engaged.
Engaging storys, well written.
I think these novels can be read individually, as well as in order, and I don't think it makes a difference.
Of course reading in order will give additional time line backstory - but they do sit fine on their own.
I love Toms attention to detail, and his good historical descriptions.
This book is quite detailed in places, regarding shootings and torture etc, but it is handled well, and not gratuitous.
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