By Cynthia Ayala
Officially, Stalin’s Soviet Union is a paradise; free of crime, but the fear within the country is all too true, caused by the all-powerful state. One that Leo Demidov, the poster boy of Soviet Russia, has fallen into a trap by not denouncing his wife. However, things have taken a turn for Leo as it’s him against the state in a race to uncover a serial murderer in a country where crime isn’t supposed to exist.
Published on April 29, 2008 by Grand Central Publishing, Child 44 is the first novel by Tom Rob Smith in his mystery thriller/historical fiction that follows a cast of characters as they weave together this novel.
This was a masterfully written story that takes place in such a vast and secluded country. So for the protagonist to piece together pieces from rural and far away countries is a struggle because it has to be believable, and in a country where crime doesn’t exist the progression of the plot line has to build in a believable way. Thankfully, it’s constructed in a very believable way that draws the reader into the plot line of the story.
One of the key things about this novel is keeping up the pace and tension of the novel. There is something sinister happening to these children across the country but all the crimes have been disconnected, so this story is all about figuring out how they connect and figuring out the puzzle. However, for Leo to investigate a matter closed by the government is treasonous. In real life, he would be sentenced to death but in the case of the novel, because the government built him up to be their poster boy, such a sentence would be shameful. Instead, they exile him to a remote town where Leo comes face to face with another victim and another false imprisonment leading him to question all his morals.
Now, what makes all of that so appealing is the fact that everything is carefully placed in the novel to draw the reader into the plot. There are constant obstacles for the characters that they have to overcome repeatedly. The best part about that is that they are not predictable. Everything that happens is unexpected and works to build the tension and increase the pace. Tom Rob Smith is so good at construction; he’s excellent and syntax and slowing down the pace to draw the reader into the scene and then just as quickly, he speeds everything up with short sentences that get to the point. No word is misplaced or misused here; it’s all about drawing the reader in, even if the characters seem a little disbelieving, the structure, the plot and the tension of the novel keep the reader enthralled, making it a fast read.
As for the characters, it has already been said that they are underdeveloped characters, meaning they haven’t fully rounded off the characters, which needs the reader to suspend any disbelief regarding these characters within this period. However, they have incredibly complex relationships with one another. Raise and Leo are the main characters, the main coupling within the novel and their relationship is so strange and complex. If anything, Rob Smith gave a lot of attention to the evolution of their relationship via both of their perceptions making it romantic at the least. Their relationship flourished out of nothing, and that is impressive in and of itself.
Overall, a strongly written novel moves so quickly, keeping the reader entranced word after word. (★★★☆☆ | B+)