When children begin showing up brutally murdered, their deaths are heralded as accidents - the blame sometimes easily ascribed to existing malcontents and other degenerates of society, wrongfully influenced by Western ideals, culture, and propaganda. Seen as a stain on the integrity of Russia and its politics, these men, already in disfavor and being monitored are quickly taken under false arrest and accused of murder Convinced that the deaths are not connected, scattered across hundreds of miles with little to no inter-city communications, the pattern of disease goes unnoticed.
But Leo Stepanovich Demidov, trained in the art of espionage, subterfuge, exquisite torture, and schooled in the maxims of Lenin and Stalin - taught to memorized and believe their tenets of a moral, unquestioning society - becomes suspicious after a recent interrogation subject refuses to confess to a crime he did not commit. Called guilty with no intention to prove him innocent, he is imprisoned and executed. Convinced of the man’s innocence an aware of the dangers his sudden doubt in the State mechanism poses both for him and his family, Leo’s world is suddenly turned upside down. Now, it’s up to Leo and his wife Raisa to investigate matters of the cover up after his suspicions become threatening to the very foundation of the country he works for. In an attempt to atone for a lifetime of misguided wrongs, Leo pursues the connection to the crime of the murdered children, even as doing so risks the lives of the ones he loves.
Child 44 is a frightening tale of innocents and survival exploited under Stalin’s dictatorship. Smith has a keen historical eye and a developed understanding of the inner workings of Stalinist Russia. At times the text was so saturated with paranoia and back-stabbing, the unfairness of it all became depressingly ridiculous. I wanted to reach into the pages and shake everyone awake to the reality of what they were perpetuating. My frustration though is testament to the power of Smith’s writing. At times difficult to differentiate the quick switches in perspective from one paragraph to the next with no other demarcations, the narrative was overall enjoyable and engaging.
The story itself unfolded rather well with surprising twists, turns, and revelations that picked up about halfway through the novel. The characters of Leo and Raisa developed beautifully and with a care of such I haven’t seen in a long time. Theirs was a romance believable in the odd context of circumstances which brought them together. I found myself exhilarated at their honesty and by the end of the novel, devotion and determination to hel peach other and pursue the future together.
I really enjoyed this novel and recommend it not just to fans of the thriller or crime fiction genre, but to everyone. After all, this is my first venture into that universe and it was a memorable journey. My thanks to Simon & Schuster UK for the lovely Christmas present!