It is a society that is, officially, a haven for its citizens. Superior to the decadent West, the Soviet Union under Stalin strives to be a paradise for its workers, providing for all their needs: education, health care, and security. In exchange, all that is required is their hard work, and their loyalty to and faith in the Soviet State. Leo Demidov knows this better than most. A rising, prominent officer in the state security force, he is a former war hero whose only ambition is to serve his country. To defend this workers' paradise, and to guarantee a secure life for his parents and his wife, Raisa, Leo has spent his career suppressing ideological crimes against the state--crimes of thought, of disloyalty, and of counterrevolution.
But then the impossible happens. A serial killer is on the loose inside the workers' paradise. At the same time, Leo finds himself demoted and denounced by his enemies, and all but sentenced to death. To save his life and the lives of his family, he must confront the vast resources and reach of the security forces--to stop a criminal that the state won't even admit exists.
Set in the Soviet Union in 1953, this stellar debut from British author Smith offers appealing characters, a strong plot and authentic period detail. When war hero Leo Stepanovich Demidov, a rising star in the MGB, the State Security force, is assigned to look into the death of a child, Leo is annoyed, first because this takes him away from a more important case, but, more importantly, because the parents insist the child was murdered. In Stalinist Russia, there's no such thing as murder; the only criminals are those who are enemies of the state. After attempting to curb the violent excesses of his second-in-command, Leo is forced to investigate his own wife, the beautiful Raisa, who's suspected of being an Anglo-American sympathizer. Demoted and exiled from Moscow, Leo stumbles onto more evidence of the child killer. The evocation of the deadly cloud-cuckoo-land of Russia during Stalin's final days will remind many of Gorky Park and Darkness at Noon, but the novel remains Smith's alone, completely original and absolutely satisfying. Rights sold in more than 20 countries. (May) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
Showing 1-2 of the 2 most recent reviews
1 . Good, but about 150 pages too long
Posted February 19, 2010 by Toni , Firestoner, coThis is a good story and I loved the way everything tied together in the end. The last 150 pages were not needed and I found myself skimming over the italicized parts. Worth reading, but would have been a really good book had it been a little shorter.
2 . Excellent!
Posted June 20, 2009 by Arielle , HoustonThis book is heavily based on the true story of a serial killer, and I found it really fascinating. It is set in early Communist Russia, and the views of the government enter into the story in many ways. I highly recommend this book, and I would definitely read it again. Child 44 is fast-paced with exceptional characters; open this book and step back to a time in a suspicious country when you could trust no one, and everyone watched everyone else.
Grand Central Publishing
April 26, 2008
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Excerpt from Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Since maria had decided to die her cat would have to fend for itself. She'd already cared for it far beyond the point where keeping a pet made any sense. Rats and mice had long since been trapped and eaten by the villagers. Domestic animals had disappeared shortly after that. All except for one, this cat, her companion which she'd kept hidden. Why hadn't she killed it? She needed something to live for; something to protect and love?something to survive for. She'd made a promise to continue feeding it up until the day she could no longer feed herself. That day was today. She'd already cut her leather boots into thin strips, boiled them with nettles and beetroot seeds. She'd already dug for earthworms, sucked on bark. This morning in a feverish delirium she'd gnawed the leg of her kitchen stool, chewed and chewed until there were splinters jutting out of her gums. Upon seeing her the cat had run away, hiding under the bed, refusing to show itself even as she'd knelt down, calling its name, trying to coax it out. That had been the moment Maria decided to die, with nothing to eat and nothing to love.
Maria waited until nightfall before opening her front door. She reckoned that by the cover of darkness her cat stood a better chance of reaching the woods unseen. If anyone in the village caught sight of it they'd hunt it. Even this close to her own death, the thought of her cat being killed upset her. She comforted herself with the knowledge that surprise was on its side. In a community where grown men chewed clods of earth in the hope of finding ants or insect eggs, where children picked through horse shit in the hope of finding undigested husks of grain and women fought over the ownership of bones, Maria was sure no one believed that a cat could still be alive.
. . .
Pavel couldn't believe his eyes. It was awkward, thin, with green eyes and black-speckled fur. It was unmistakably a cat. He'd been collecting firewood when he saw the animal dart from Maria Antonovna's house, cross the snow-covered road, and head toward the woods. Holding his breath, he glanced around. No one else had spotted it. There was no one else about; no lights at the windows. Wisps of smoke, the only sign of life, rose from less than half the chimney stacks. It was as though his village had been snuffed out by the heavy snowfall; all signs of life extinguished. Much of the snow lay undisturbed: there were hardly any footprints and not a single path had been dug. Days were as quiet as the nights. No one got up to work. None of his friends played, staying in their houses where they lay with their families huddled in beds, rows of enormous sunken eyes staring up at the ceiling. Adults had begun to look like children, children like adults. Most had given up scavenging for food. In these circumstances the appearance of a cat was nothing short of miraculous?the reemergence of a creature long since considered extinct.
Pavel closed his eyes and tried to remember the last time he'd eaten meat. When he opened his eyes he was salivating. Spit ran down the side of his face in thick streams. He wiped it away with the back of his hand. Excited, he dropped his pile of sticks and ran home. He had to tell his mother, Oksana, the remarkable news.
. . .
Oksana sat wrapped in a wool blanket staring at the floor. She remained perfectly still, conserving energy as she devised ways of keeping her family alive, thoughts which occupied her every waking hour and every fretful dream. She was one of the few who'd not given up. She would never give up. Not as long as she had her sons. But determination itself wasn't enough, she had to be careful: a misjudged endeavor could mean exhaustion, and exhaustion invariably meant death. Some months ago Nikolai Ivanovich, a neighbor and friend, had embarked on a desperate raid upon a State granary. He had not returned. The next morning Nikolai's wife and Oksana had gone looking for him. They'd found his body by the roadside, lying on his back?a skeletal body with an arched, stretched stomach, his belly pregnant with the uncooked grain he'd swallowed in his dying moments. The wife had wept while Oksana removed the remaining grain from his pockets, dividing it between them. On their return to the village Nikolai's wife had told everyone the news. Instead of being pitied she'd been envied, all anyone could think about were the handfuls of grain she possessed. Oksana had thought her an honest fool?she'd put them both in danger.
Her recollections were interrupted by the sound of someone running. No one ran unless there was important news. She stood up, fearful. Pavel burst into the room and breathlessly announced: