Leo Demidov knows this better than most. A rising, prominent officer in the State Security force, Leo is a former war hero whose only ambition is to serve his country. To defend this workers' paradise - and to guarantee a secure life for his parents and for his wife, Raisa - Leo has spent his career guarding against threats to the State. Ideological crimes - crimes of thought, crimes of disloyalty, crimes against the revolution - are forcefully suppressed, without question.
And 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, all but sentenced to death. The only way to salvage what remains of his life 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.
To save his life and the lives of his family, Leo must confront the vast resources and reach of the security forces, with only Raisa remaining at his side, to find and stop a criminal that the State won't even admit exists.
©2008 Tom Rob Smith; (P)2008 Hachette Audio
"Child 44 is a remarkable debut novel - inventive, edgy and relentlessly gripping from the first page to the last." (Scott Turow)
It took a while to get used to the story being in such a depressing place. But the characters were interesting and the story was intriguing. Considering this was his first book, I have high hopes for the next one. I plan to read the rest in this series.
Terrific, horrific, in many ways but as good an inside look and explanation of Stalinist Soviet Society at a turning point. Reading was enthralling and the brutality was hard to listen to but hard not to want to know what is next. A writer whose research must have been as difficult as the times he writes about - and his principal character is terrific.
A great story and the narrator was terrific. I look forward to reading the next in the series. A backdoor look into stalin's russia was fascinating and educaitonal. highly recommend this to whomever likes a good suspense thriller set in a country other that britain or us.
The first chapter starts with a pair of starving children in a Russian village in the 1930s, hunting a scrawny, skeletal cat, possibly the last surviving creature on four legs in the region. Catching it may be life or death for them, and I was hooked right from the start. Child 44 is a brutal book, despite a relative lack of gore. It's actually not the rampant starvation and devastation of World War II framing the hard early lives of the characters that make the book most brutal, nor is it the child serial killer who is the central MacGuffin of the book. It's the pervasive, arbitrary, boot-in-the-face totalitarianism of the Soviet police state that makes every single encounter a life-or-death exercise in paranoia.
After the prologue, Child 44 jumps ahead to the early 1950s, while Stalin's pogroms are still machine-gunning away. The protagonist is Leo Demidov, a war hero and State Security officer. At the beginning of the book, his life is about as cushy as life can get for anyone in the USSR who isn't a high-ranking Communist Party member: he has power, authority, a beautiful wife, a nice apartment, and he's been able to make sure his parents are comfortable.
When the son of one of his coworkers is killed, Leo is told that the boy was killed by a train. It was an accident. He will inform the boy's family that it was an accident. The boy was killed by a train. The boy was emphatically not murdered, not found naked with his mouth stuffed with dirt, and not seen being led from the train tracks by a strange man. This is the state's official line, and therefore it is what Leo is to believe.
When more children are found murdered, the state says they are all separate, unrelated incidents. Leo, who has been a true supporter of the state his entire life, starts to find the cognitive dissonance too much to bear. Leo also has a problem saying things he knows to be untrue, like when his loyalty is tested when he is told his wife is a foreign agent and must be denounced.
Pretty quickly, Leo's comfortable life goes to hell, and he is given a humiliating demotion. He and his wife are spared from the gulags only by the fortuitous death of Stalin. But even in a nowhere town in the Urals, Leo finds that the child-killer is leaving corpses, all over the country.
Child 44 was a gritty, thrilling story, as much about the horror of living in a police state where reality is what the state says it is and everyone measures what they will say and do according to what they think will keep them alive, never according to what might happen to be the truth, as it is about a serial killer preying on children in Stalin's Russia. Leo is an interesting protagonist: not precisely a "good" man but neither is he an evil one. He's been willing to work within the system his entire life, until the system turns against him, and then he has a sort of awakening of the conscience.
Unfortunately, it's at this point where I felt the story veered a bit away from its solid beginnings. Having stacked the deck so thoroughly against Leo and made it clear just how overwhelmingly powerful the government is and how no one can be trusted, giving Leo the ability to continue what amounts to an independent investigation without being caught requires one lucky break after another, and the lucky breaks just keep piling up. People with no reason to trust him or help him do, his wife who hates him suddenly becomes his most loyal ally, and he slips out of one trap after another. No single escape was unbelievable, but by the end of the book I was thinking Leo Demidov is one lucky Russian SOB. On top of this were piled some equally fantastic coincidences that constituted the surprise twists.
It was still a thrilling story with very interesting characters in what felt like a historically accurate setting, but I had to knock it down to 4 stars because of how much bending and stretching the plot had to do to allow an unlikely maverick protagonist to survive in the USSR. That said, I recommend it to anyone who likes mystery/thrillers and finds the premise interesting. This is the first book in a trilogy, and I'll certainly check out the next two books.
I listened to the audiobook version, and I'm of two minds about the narration. The narrator was very good and gave each character a believable Russian accent. Therein lies the problem: these are Russian characters speaking Russian, so obviously they don't have accents. But this reading did bring to life the plodding, implacable mood of the setting and the Russians who inhabit it. I suspect to a Russian speaker it would be a different experience, and reading the book (unless you mentally give Russian characters Russian accents as you read) would also give it a different atmosphere.
A very original story line, main character and plot. Very compelling. I was moved thoroughly entertained. It gave what appears to be a very likely feel for Stalinist's Soviet Union - and you'll be amazed that you're glad to have visited such a place!
The Narrator was excellent, the story was excellent, it gripped me from the first minutes right till the last. I downloaded the sequel right away and was so glad not to have to say goodbye to Leo and Rieesa. I don't like description and there was barely a wasted word in this novel. Amazing story and a lesson in what Russia was like when Stalin ruled. Would highly recommend.
I am a child of the 50's, love kids, animals, plants. I adopted a Sulphur mustang mare (desendant of the warhorses of the Conquistadors).
I would recommend this book, and I would also encourage the listener to stay with it. It seemed like the author took a long time to begin to tie the story elements together, and I almost quit listening. By about a third of the way into the book I was hooked. I liked the character development, and the development of hope through relationship with people.
I liked both Leo and Raisa, but I have to admit I liked her more.
I thought he did accents well...
The moment before they came to the village when Raisa encouraged Leo to trust the villagers moved me. Even though this is a fictional series, I believe there are many times that people are heroic through standing up to fear, and this moment in the book reminds the read of humanity in its finer moments. Later, Leo shows he's taken this lesson to heart when he refuses to harm the truck driver.
I found I like the book so well I'm downloading the next book in the series, instead of my planned next book...
GREAT narration, and frankly, a GREAT story. This series gets BETTER with each book. I LOVE this series. It is not a
I've been to Russia, his accents and gender changes are AWESOME! He really makes listening to this series better than reading it.
I purchased this book on a whim and I am so glad I did! The narrator does a great job of putting you right there in the story. Although I love historical novels, this is not the sort I would usually listen to. I would highly recommend this one. I have already purchased Tom Rob Smith's two other novels on Audible!
Wonderfully written, ESPECIALLY if you like detailed accounting of young child murders! I gave it 5 stars because nobody reads the 1 star reviews. Don't buy it, it'll make you sick. Not really sure how someoone could make this stuff up?!
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