Thursday, May 07, 2009


Child 44, Tom Rob Smith, Grand Central Publishing, 2008, 436 pp'

Sometimes when I am going through a bad experience, it is helpful to read about people who are going through something worse, which was the case for me with Child 44.

The setting is Moscow, 1953. Leo Demidov is a senior officer of the MGB, the State Security Force under Stalin. He is ultra conscientious and believes in the ideals of the communist state. He is also skilled in negotiating the climate of fear and suspicion in which he operates including having secured a relatively high standard of living for himself, his wife and his parents.

In the line of his work, he stumbles across an apparent murder case. Since one of the fundamental pillars of Stalin's Soviet Union is that "There is no crime," Leo is faced with a conundrum which eventually erodes his belief system, ruins his life and reveals a deeply buried experience from his childhood.

All of this makes for exciting reading. Child 44 is a thriller in the best sense of the genre as well as a collection of tautly constructed psychological portraits of people in a totalitarian society. I wasn't sure about the highly improbable happy ending, but up until then, this debut author had me completely convinced.

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