Leo is the perfect soldier of the regime. But suddenly his confidence that everything he does serves a great good is shaken. He is forced to watch a man he knows to be innocent be brutally tortured. And then he is told to arrest his own wife.
Leo understands how the State works: Trust and check, but check particularly on those we trust. He faces a stark choice: his wife or his life. And still the killings of children continue.
©2008 Tom Rob Smith; (P)2008 W F Howes Ltd
In his debut novel Smith has painted a bleak picture of Stalin's Russia where blind faith in the State, or pretence of it, is the norm. Across the disparate parts of this story people's actions and decisions are fuelled by paranoia, desperation and vengeance. Many people abuse whatever power they have and many others live in constant fear of that abuse. The few acts motivated by love, friendship or hope are memorable for their rarity. In some ways this is a familiar picture of Russia during this era but I thought Smith did a better job than many writers in demonstrating the subtle differences in people's behaviour and exploring the reasons behind that behaviour rather than portraying everyone in as stereotypical good and evil as is often the case.
Few of the characters are likable however understandable their actions may be. But they're very credible in the context of the world Smith has depicted. The writing is breathtaking in the way it depicts scenes so vividly that you're transported to the places where action takes place and can feel the emotions of those involved. My main criticism of an otherwise terrific book is that in the last third the plot moved from credible to 'Hollywood' with the number of in-the-nick-of-time escapes and coincidences used to get to the ending.
It's an evocative portrayal of a time and place that's been demonised many times in literature and movies but rarely explored in such a thoughtful and thought-provoking way.
The story felt like it relied on a lot of old soviet cliches, the crime story took 7 hours to get going and was a bit fanciful.
I doubt it.
He didn't add or subtract from the story.
it was very long for a thin story line. A few decent twists but nothing particularly interesting or not telegraphed.
I finished the book but only pushed on to finish it so I could get back to the Harry Bosch series
"Mans Inhumanity to Man"
The book is one of the best I have purchased from audible.It portrays the life in Russia under Stalin and the fear of reprisals.
Leo's world is turned upside down from being an avid supporter of the state system he then experience's the Horrors of being an enemy of the state.
Does one have sympathy for Leo's fate or do you try to think you are suffering the same fate of many other People he has sent of to the Gulags.
The brutality and fear portrayed in the book are tools of the state to ensure obedience.
20 million people entered the gulag system under Stalin.
Man is wolf to man
I found this book tough at the start to get into. Some of the content is not easy to listen to - pretty brutal conditions in Stalinist Russia. However, it became absorbing after the first hour and ultimately unputdownable. An excellent story.
"One of those books that is close to perfect"
One of the best books I have come across in a while. A brilliant mix of history and fiction. It start with a bleak and disturbing view of Stalin’s Russia and some of the vile means they controlled the people. Then as the book moves on you find yourself drawn in to a very powerful crime drama with huge characters and brilliant plot. Without wanting to reveal anything about the story the way the narrative keeps reverting back to previous sections is totally enthralling.
As other people have mentioned some of the story line is hard to hear and it made me angry that people can be so cruel and callous to others but it is presented in a historic rather than sensational way.
If I had a criticism it would be that the end fails to live up to the rest of the book but in fairness this is partly because I did not want there to be an end and I wanted to stay in the narrative.
Excellent book wonderfully read. Thank you.
"Exciting if you don't mind the violent bits"
There is a lot of implied violence and torture in this book which is nevertheless, quite exciting. It is also pretty relentlessly bleak. Nevertheless, by the end I decided I wanted to listen to the next book so it can?t have been all that bleak! The reading is first rate which really enhances the experience ? and once I got into the story I managed to rise above the gloom and I quite quickly wanted to find out what happened. If you enjoy drama and don?t mind the violent bits it?s a very good listen.
"Brilliant and compelling"
If you only read one crime book this year, make it this one. Compelling, fascinating, thrilling, this is a terrifying insight into life in Communist Russia. Credible characters and a believable story make this unputdownable. I can't wait for the sequel - hurry up Tom!
"Crafted so well."
Enjoyed this novel from the first thirty minutes. Well crafted and narrated. What an obvious and wonderfully twisted end too!
"Great characters, great story"
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it difficult to stop listening! On the one hand it is a crime thriller as Leo struggles to track down a child-killer, hampered by the fact that in the Communist Soviet Union crime cannot exist as it is a perfect society. On another level we follow his struggles with the ideology of the State as he begins to question the system which he has supported and worked for all his life. Very atmospheric and expertly narrated - definitely worth a listen.
"Trust but check. Check on those we trust."
Investigating the truth while living a lie, a lie so terrible so pernicious everyone feared the truth, especially when it spoke of a problem a blemish in a communist utopia where millions died for lesser crimes or no crimes at all just the suspicion, the probability of a thought crime, the crime of association.
“—Isn’t this how it starts? You have a cause you believe in, a cause worth dying for. Soon, it’s a cause worth killing for. Soon, it’s a cause worth killing innocent people for.”
― Tom Rob Smith, Child 44
This is a world where a totalitarian despot controls people's thoughts the very reality they inhabit, the plot develops in the very real terror state created by Stalin and the communist party, where millions were incarcerated and put to death. Not light reading or easy for the squeamish to stomach, but an excellent exposition of a man trying to be more than a servant of the state, a man trying to hold onto his humanity and modicum of decency.
“There's nothing more stubborn than a fact. That is why you hate them so much. They offend you.”
― Tom Rob Smith, Child 44
Excellent in every way, be prepared to enter a world not just a book.
Many twists and turns, I wasnt sure how would end. Kept be gripped throughout.
"Characters never really come to life"
44 children strangely killed, all part of an elaborate plan to avenge a childhood trauma. Not terribly plausible, but the plot does sort of connect once you accept the dozens of unlikely clues and connections.
What I found a little tiresome was the author ever explaining the reasoning of his characters in a way that reminds me more of the instructions of a film script. Even the meticulous reasonings of seven-year-olds... The persons somehow remain distant and impersonal. Steven Pacey does a good job, considering the material, reading the lines in a Russian accent.
Read it for the plot or for the setting in early-1950s Soviet Union, but not for its gallery of characters.
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