Friday, 6 January 2012

Thoughts: Child 44 & The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith

I am not much of a series reader but my BF's mother lend me those two books and as I wanted to return them, I decided to give them a shot. Surprise, surprise I ended up liking the Leo Demidow series quite a bit.

Child 44

There is no crime in Stalin's Soviet Union and it is a paradise for it's dutiful citizens, it's hard workers. No one needs to live in fear of criminals but nearly everybody lives in fear of the State. An ideologically disloyal opinion or contact with suspicious people can send people into Gulags or their own execution. When Leo Demidow, a war hero and courageous MGB agent, becomes aware of a serial killer who murders innocent children, he has to be careful. The state arrests the wrong people, because they need to present the cases solved but the real murderer is still at large, killing at will. Leo must not challenge the state's way to come by the crimes but needs to find the killer on his own and stop a criminal that the State won't admit even exists.

The books was better than expected. Child 44 is a page-turner and brims with information about the repression and fear people lived in in a Stalin reigned Soviet Union. I myself felt the anguish. And I certainly liked the character of Leo. He is not perfect, first devoted to the state, pursuing innocent people, arresting them and delivering them to torture, he soon becomes aware of the wrongness of it all and wants to change. But he too only is a puppet and has to play his designated role, because everybody who questions the system is exposed to the state's cruelty. That is why Leo soon finds himself demoted and denounced by his enemies, his world turned upside down, and every belief he's ever held shattered. And Leo has to think of his family too, his parents and wife Raisa, who becomes a true companion for Leo and is a remarkable character herself.

Child 44 is a thriller unlike any I have read so far, because of the very different setting, where every move you make is overseen which is nightmarish in its own.

After finishing this one I instantly grabbed the second book of the series.

The Secret Speech

The Soviet Union in 1956 is a country where Stalin is dead and due to Khrushchev's secret speech some kind of reformation is going on. Suddenly the police, who forced repression and torture on people, are identified as criminals and the criminals are the innocent. The hunters become the hunted. Leo Demidow's adoptive daughter is kidnapped by a gang of criminals whose head is a woman Leo once betrayed. She wants him to get her husband out of a Gulag in Kolyma, a cold and dark Siberian region, where the forced laborers mine gold. Leo is channeled in the gulag as prisoner but already on the first day he is found out to be a Checkists, an agent working for the state. Now not only the life of his daughter but his own is in danger.

The second book in the series turns out to be as entertaining and fast-paced as the first book. The life in gulags, which played an important role in the punishment and conversion of dissidents, is focused in the middle part of the book. The conditions in those prisoner camps were horrible and the people that died in them are estimated about the same number as people died in second world war. But I think that Leo might have acted a little naive given what his experiences were in the first book, which makes Child 44 a slightly better read for me.

The next book in the series is Agent 6 which I might read some time in the future, too.

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