Book Review : Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Child 44 by

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Stalin's Soviet Union strives to be a paradise for its workers, providing for all of their needs. One of its fundamental pillars is that its citizens live free from the fear of ordinary crime and criminals.

But in this society, millions do live in fear . . . of the State. Death is a whisper away. The mere suspicion of ideological disloyalty-owning a book from the decadent West, the wrong word at the wrong time-sends millions of innocents into the Gulags or to their executions. Defending the system from its citizens is the MGB, the State Security Force. And no MGB officer is more courageous, conscientious, or idealistic than Leo Demidov.

A war hero with a beautiful wife, Leo lives in relative luxury in Moscow, even providing a decent apartment for his parents. His only ambition has been to serve his country. For this greater good, he has arrested and interrogated.

Then the impossible happens. A different kind of criminal-a murderer-is on the loose, killing at will. At the same time, Leo finds himself demoted and denounced by his enemies, his world turned upside down, and every belief he's ever held shattered. The only way to save his life and the lives of his family is to uncover this criminal. But in a society that is officially paradise, it's a crime against the State to suggest that a murderer-much less a serial killer-is in their midst. Exiled from his home, with only his wife, Raisa, remaining at his side, Leo must confront the vast resources and reach of the MBG to find and stop a criminal that the State won't admit even exists.
I knew next to nothing about the Soviet Union or Stalin's Russia prior to this book, and reading Child 44 proved to be an eye-opener. The book starts with the horrors of a famine-stricken village, which sent a chill down my spine. People were starving and dying, and they only had tree barks to chew on to ease their hunger. In a way, it implies the truth of survival of the fittest.

The story then moves on to a high-ranking military officer in the MGB, Leo Demidov. His loyalty to the MGB was unquestionable, but that did not stop his colleague to frame his wife for treason. Leo was torn. He had only two choices: to proscribe his wife Raisa as a traitor and keep his position in the military, or to defy his superiors, claim his wife innocent and be punished as an accomplice.

When he discovered that numerous children had been killed all over Russia, he embarked on a quest to seize the killer with Raisa despite being interdicted by the authorities. They were alone, but not totally isolated. People were willing to help them, even though by doing so, they were risking their own lives, because they did not trust the "zero-crime utopia" Stalin created anymore. They knew that they were actually living in a hell which was packaged as heaven, where you could never really trust anybody.

Towards the end of the novel, the author inserted a twist big enough to throw you off balance. Leo's discovery of the murderer's identity was frightening and it gave him a big shock. What I love about this book is the part where Leo and Raisa were on the run to escape authorities. Their wits and courage to avoid their pursuers really impressed me, and the vivid portrayal of the scenes made me excited, nervous and worried at the same time. My heartbeat accelerated at their multiple risks of being caught and slim chances of survival.

This book is thrilling, fast-paced, suspenseful and ultimately brilliant. You definitely wouldn't want to miss it!

Rating: 5
Tom Rob Smith was born in 1979 to a Swedish mother and an English father and was brought up in London where he still lives. He graduated from Cambridge in 2001 and spent a year in Italy on a creative writing scholarship. Tom has worked as a screenwriter for the past five years, including a six-month stint in Phnom Penh storylining Cambodia's first ever soap. CHILD 44 is his first novel.

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