Friday, September 2, 2016

Child 44

by Tom Rob Smith
440 pgs  (Leo Demidov series #1)

Set primarily in 1953, Child 44 is the first novel in a series by Tom Rob Smith featuring Leo Demidov, an MGB Agent in the Soviet Union. Leo has spent years hunting dissidents and meting out punishment to any and all whom he believes have done anything, said anything, or thought anything which goes against Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party. He has risen in the ranks of the MGB to the point where he and his wife enjoy many comforts and luxuries not provided to most citizens. He believes in the Socialist cause and that his work is important to ensuring its strength and success.

He has been taught that since the government provides everything its citizens need, the only crimes that exist are acts committed by those trying to subvert the power and authority of the Party. Crimes like senseless murder just don't exist in the Soviet Union.

But someone is killing young children throughout western Russia. Their bodies have been found naked, with a string tied around their ankle, their stomach removed, and their mouth filled with dirt. Leo suspects that all the killings are the work of one man, but when he begins to investigate the cases, he's demoted and exiled to a small town hundreds of kilometers away from Moscow. As he continually tries to pursue the killer, he finds himself disgraced and hunted by the Party he served for so many years.

Child 44 is a fantastic book! Not only did Smith succeed in telling a compelling story of a serial killer-- a story inspired by the actual crimes of Andrei Chikatilo, aka the Rostov Ripper, the Red Ripper, and the Butcher of Rostov--but he does so against an extremely vivid backdrop. Smith does an incredible job of describing what life was like in the Soviet Union while Joseph Stalin was at its head. He describes the desperation and fear that were so prevalent throughout the Soviet Union during that time. Even without the mystery surrounding the killings the book would be worth reading, if only to learn what it was like for the typical citizen alive during that time to try to survive.  With the combination of the fascinating historical setting and the grizzly murders of a serial killer, Child 44 is a book I'll be recommending to family and friends enthusiastically.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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