I love books, and I'm always on the lookout to find something new to read. One of my favorite pastimes is to wander around bookstores, browsing through the stacks. I can easily find at least ten books that I want to read. Unfortunately, it's just not possible to read as fast as I can choose them. Child 44, Tom Rob Smith's first book was just published in 2008. I discovered it after I read a review on Pajiba, my favorite website when it comes to movie reviews and witty and wordy commentaries. I don't particularly remember the review, and mysteries are not usually my favorite genre, but apparently the review made the book sound interesting enough that I placed a hold on it at the library. There was a long wait for it, which I took as a good sign.
If you take the bare bones of this plot, it is about a man who is trying to solve the serial killings of many children throughout the country. If it were only that, then this book would have been a disappointment. The children were brutally murdered, which made the book kind of creepy and sometimes hard to read. I didn't really buy the motivation for the crimes besides the fact that the killer was crazy, and the ending summed everything up a little too neatly. In the bare facts of the story, it wasn't too different from any mystery by numbers novel that is fast paced and written well.
However, what made this book a really interesting read was that it was set in Moscow in 1953. The protagonist, Leo Demidov, is a high-ranking member of the MGB--the state security force. The way Tom Rob Smith portrayed Stalinist Russia with its power politics, paranoia, injustice, torture, and claustrophobic patriarchy added a fascinating element to the story. Now Leo was not just trying to find a murderer, he was trying to stay alive long enough to find a murderer in a state whose system did not allow for such western horrors as serial killers. The glimpse and clear portrayal of what it would have been to live at that time in the U.S.S.R. makes this a page turning and very entertaining read. And I don't know if the author was trying to make this point, but I especially found the "after the fact" justifications the state used for torture while seeing the incredible injustices stemming from it very timely.