Wednesday, July 28, 2010

REVIEW: Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith

Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith. Published 2008 by Grand Central Publishing. Fiction. Crime Fiction.

I pounced on a hardcover copy of Child 44 as soon as I laid eyes on it; between my interest in books about Russia and the fact that it was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, it seemed like a great fit. And it's a thriller, and I love a good thriller.

I was half right.

Long on plot and style, Child 44 is a great pageturner about a series of murders in the 1950s Soviet Union. The setting is richly detailed and immersing, and the hero, Leo Demidov, is a Stalinist true believer who finds his faith in the system in which he's deeply invested shaken after the bizarre murders of several children. He's a respected security officer with a beautiful wife, but no one is ever secure in this world, and today's favorite is tomorrow's traitor. His deputy is gunning for him, fellow officers mistrust him and soon everything depends on his ability to prove that these murders are related and compel his superiors to act.

The emphasis here is definitely on the story and the setting. I enjoyed the fast pace of the plot and the twists and turns, and I love how much research Smith did on the Soviet criminal system and political and social culture. His writing is top-notch and he creates a riveting, scary and fascinatingly foreign world where losing favor with the boss means affecting the fate of one's whole family, and where rumors and innuendo can snuff out a life as easily as flicking a light switch. I liked the characters, especially Leo and his wife Raisa, but I wish that Smith had developed them more and given them a little more room to breathe. I didn't really buy the big transition in their relationship that occurs about three quarters of the way through, probably because I wasn't really sold on their relationship in the first place.

The one thing that really disappointed me, and what keeps me from recommending it without reservation, is the ending, which was far too convenient and dependent on coincidence. Of all the gin joints in all the world... yeah. And the backstory that explains it all didn't work for me, either. But you know what? Other than that, it's a fabulous read and I'd recommend it for thriller readers, for literary readers looking for something compelling for the beach bag and for readers interested in Russia for the cultural side of the story. That should cover a lot of readers!

Rating: BACKLIST

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

12 comments:

Zibilee said...

I have been curious about this book, but this is actually the first review of it I have read. It sounds like it's a bit of a mix, with some things being done very well, and some things done not so well. I may have to think a little further on my decision to read this book. Thanks for the great and comprehensive review, Marie!

Bibliophile By the Sea said...

oh no...I guess the reviews really are mixed on this one. I recently acquired this book aand was hoping I'd like it. Fortunately I only paid 25 cents for it...LOL

Thanks for the insightful review Marie.

bermudaonion said...

I read this a couple years ago and remember that I liked it a lot, but I can't remember how it ended, so I don't know if that bothered me or not.

Trisha said...

I have read quite a few books this year where I enjoyed everything but the ending. In some instances, I really really liked the book but the way everything wrapped up disgusted or annoyed me so much I ended up not liking the book.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I wasn't totally in love with the book either, although I really liked that it was so different from the usual serial killer book. The sequel (The Secret Speech) is actually quite different. But again, it's got good things and bad things. Overall, I suppose I'd say with both books that the Soviet background info helps compensate for any other shortcomings.

Teresa said...

I felt very much as you did about the book. Great atmosphere, gripping story, sort of fell apart at the end. I happened to be listening to 1984 when I read this, though, and it added a whole new dimension to the interrogation scenes in both books!

jewwishes said...

Thanks for the great review, Marie.

Mystica said...

For me this book sounds intriguing - I had'nt heard of this so thanks for this review.

S. Krishna said...

Ooh, that's disappointing. I hate when books have events in them that are just too convenient or coincidental. Thanks for the review!

Lynnda said...

Not a new reader but newly joining your site--I was surprised to see by coincidence you reviewing Child 44 as it is not a new book and I also just finished reading it. I mostly agree with you assessment. However, I did find the Leo/Raisa relationship believable. True--we did not see all of the development--one had to read between the lines--on the series of neatly wrapped up endings I was willing to give the author slack because this is more of a thriller than a literary novel, justified or not. Besides he fulfilled spectacularly on other levels--historically and atmospherically. I don't normally read thrillers, they have to be top drawer, but this is a must read.

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

I recently purchased this book and have read a handful of reviews....I'm really looking forward to it, despite the ending, if only because the setting fascinates me.

Lynn said...

I posted recently about Child 44 as Lynnda. Because I have a new book related blog if you want to reach me to comment about my comment or anything else book-wise I am also now "The Corner Book Stop" blog. Either or is fine. Please excuse my bumbling. This is a new world to me. Thanks!