I'd delayed reading Child 44, Tom Rob Smith's Russian thriller, for some time. It was enormously hyped-up in the press (in my experience often a sign of a disappointing read), and had received generally poor reviews on Amazon. Anyway at long last I decided to tackle it, and ... I'm with the press on this one. It's a sensational read, a great thriller set in Stalinist Russia, clever plotline, a background reminiscent of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four and is astoundingly well written.
The writing style is a little strange. No quotation marks here, instead everyone speaks in italics
- Rather like this.
This does feel rather odd until you get used to it, speech then has the immediacy and freshness of a stageplay, which, I suspect, is what Smith was trying to attain. It's easy to see why Ridley Scott was interested in turning the book into a film as it does have a very filmic quality, although this project now appears to have fallen through.
Leo is an unlikely hero - an officer of the MGB, Russia's internal security service and a hero of the Great Patriotic War, he becomes an unlikely dissident when he sticks up for his wife and is exiled to the police service in a small provincial town. Here he investigates the murder of a child - a crime that cannot exist as crime has been banished in Stalin's Russia. It soon becomes clear to Leo and his superior, General Nesterov, that whether or not crime is supposed to exist it does, and that a serial killer is at work. Nesterov and Leo track across Russia trying to corner the killer, while they are in turn being hunted down by Vasilli, a particularly odious member of the MGB, for disloyalty to the state.
I enjoyed everything about this book - the background is superb including the Alice in Wonderland quality of a communist state, it's a great high-tension thriller with Smith expertly notching up the tension throughout. It's also a very human story of love, disillusionment and belonging.
Some aspects of the storyline are rather unbelievable, but, hey, what else if fiction for if not to suspend disbelief occasionally. If you enjoy David Downing or Alan Furst this is a must-read.