Book review of: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Reviewer: Nicholas LePera

“From his bedroom window Mikhail Zinoviev could see that the barn door was open. It was swaying backwards and forwards into the wind and snow was swirling into the barn”, the vivid description and imagery of Child 44.  The novel was written by Tom Rob Smith, and the book is outstanding, considering it is his first.  The mere thought of future books written by such a talented person is intriguing. Child 44 is followed by two others, The Secret Speech, and Agent 6. His first book, Child 44, was so well received that it is expected to receive a film adaptation. Get ready to see it hit the big screen! This book is not for the faint-of-heart. The harsh Russian winter is as unforgiving as its people. Murder, rape, and alcoholism has its members and you may not take kindly to sexual themes.

The thriller Child 44 takes place in the midst of post World War II in Soviet Russia. From reading history books, I went into this book knowing Stalin was a mad-man responsible for the deaths of millions of his own people. He was responsible for the harsh and villainous tactics used by the secret police. Extortion, murder, torture, and more. This knowledge gave me a fear when reading that something unexpected could happen to my favourite characters due to the type of world they live in.  During such an eventful point in time is why this story flourishes. The time and place of all events created by Tom Rob Smith accurately correlate with the methods of the secret police and the propaganda used by the State to coerce people to following a maniac’s goal.  Agents huddled around the radiator of their GAZ automobile struggling to stay warm as they progress towards a farm they plan to raid has a militaristic feel to it that made me feel the brotherly feel among the crowd but also the connection to the dark deeds these men have done.  From Moscow, to Rostov, circumstances change, not all fear is the same and characters fit the living environment they are in through their dialogue to their actions.

In the boots of lead character, Leo Demidov is an MGB agent, also known as the secret police, which is responsible for carrying out Stalin’s orders. As the reader is introduced to Leo, they will find out his past is not exactly as obvious as one might hope.  His job was to blame crimes upon people who had done nothing.  Falsely placing claims and torturing confessions are the specialty of men such as Leo. The victims, taken from their rooms in the night, all traces of them gone. Nobody bats an eyelash, for if they do, they may be next. These are historical events that tie in with Tom Rob Smith’s main character, Leo who has put all of his faith in the state and lives to serve loyally. His loyalty stretches back as far to the time of being a soldier in the Red Army, it would only make sense for Leo to join the Ministry of State Security  One day events begin to take place which make their way to Leo’s attention causing him to challenge his belief in the state. He is married to a teacher named Raisa, though the marriage isn’t exactly working out. Though he cannot realize why, state deception has cast his mind away from his eyes so he cannot realize what he is doing.  Smith ties in the feeling of the harsh Russian environment through immersing the reader in its weather, but also in its appearance as a Communist nation ruled by fear. You will breathe and feel every city block, every farm, and path traveled by Leo.  From the streets of the Lubyanka to the slums of Rostov-on-don, Smith provides the reader a complete Russian geographic. As more and more events spawn onto the drawing table, Leo becomes baffled. Everything he has been taught and has believed is being disproved in a matter of days. I felt attached, as if I had been in his shoes and I was there for the battle to make a decision on what to do next. Struggling to figure out the truth, he begins to investigate these mysterious murders. We as readers are brought along in the journey, ever present yet ever distant to the story we are enveloped by.

The people he originally arrested had no correlation to these events. Leo knows this for a fact, but is hesitant to disobey the all-knowing state. Each murdered child he has come across has had the same exact autopsy report on how they were killed, surely this was no coincidence. Amongst the chaos, the protagonist is tested by the state. His rivals have given him a test, denounce his wife as a spy. For days Leo debates on the possibilities. Is his lover a spy for the West? He finds himself on the streets with his wife, Raisa, banished from Moscow.

Having been demoted for failing to denounce his wife, the couple finds themselves on their own and Leo at a disadvantage in solving the mystery at large, the murderer. He must conduct his operations in secret and find a way to bring the madman responsible to justice.  The reader may attempt to read this book and infer possible outcomes and scenarios by judging the book in comparison to other shows and books, but each one shall fail.

Within the pages of this book are vast amounts of mysteries and details making it impossible for you to draw conclusions but yet remain entertained. With countless history books, texts, and documentaries, Smith created the most historically accurate fiction of all time.

Searching for answers to his question, Leo will meet new people. What fate will he face in the harsh and barren cold of such an unforgiving land? Leo must redeem himself, for his wife, Raisa. Living a life of lies only makes it harder to search for the truth.

Book: Child 44        Author: Tom Rob Smith        Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

  Date Published: 2008        Pages: 400          Genre: Thriller         Language: English  

Creative Piece: Is a series of events manipulated and scripted to happen in a game called Elderscrolls V: Skyrim. I used the cold and barren environment of the game to represent the story. The time-period of the footage is not completely aligned with the period of the time because I envisioned this book in a new light. The footage appears to be somewhat medieval or renaissance when the book takes places in the late 40's early 50's.

Comments (1)

Alexander Held (Student 2015)
Alexander Held

As being a part of a class full of exciting creative pieces, yours was very original in its own right and I thought it was a nice touch using a video game and recording you have from it to make your trailer.