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Child 44

by Tom Rob Smith

      Child 44, prior to its publication, was already one of the most talked about books of the year.† The author is young, he was paid a ton of money for the novel and with a supposedly complicated, suspense-filled plot, people in the industry were already calling it the book of the year before anyone had seen it.†

Itís fairly rare that a novel can live up to that kind of hype and to meet those kinds of expectations from readers, but Child 44 manages to do both in a big way.†

Set in the Soviet Union during Stalinís reign, the novel centers around MGB agent Leo Demidov.† A loyal, respected, high-ranking agent within the State Security Force when we are first introduced to him, Demidov soon finds himself demoted and scorned by his peers, a victim of both the paranoia that runs rampant in the country and a co-worker seeking revenge.† Demidov and his wife are forced to move from Moscow to a rugged, rural outpost where he is assigned a job as an underling.† While there, as he deals with his sudden downfall and his crumbling marriage, Demidov stumbles upon what appears to be a serial killer preying on children.† Knowing that even suggesting such a thing is dangerous in a country that denounces the possibility of crime, Demidov must make a choice - ignore what he sees and serve out his punishment in silence or seek redemption through something that may end his own life.†

Demidov, of course chooses the dangerous redemption and it is that choice that makes this novel so compelling.† As he delves deeper into the murders and fights through the claustrophobic paranoia that envelopes his countrymen, Demidov battles his own flaws, attempting to atone for the mistakes in his past, even if that means endangering his future.† Tom Rob Smith has done a masterful job of not only developing Demidovís character, but of characterizing the brutal conditions of that era in Soviet Union history and the utter despair of its citizens.† He accomplishes all this while managing to keep the suspense ratcheted up at the highest levels with a pace that rarely slows.†

This is Smithís first novel and, like most novels, it is not perfect.† Several of the plot turns rely heavily on coincidence and there were passages that wouldíve benefited from editing.† The book is rich with detail, which almost always works in its favor, but at times, it felt a tad overwritten and the clarity of Smithís storytelling would only be sharpened by trimming a little more fat from the otherwise excellent prose.†

But those are minor quibbles with what is truly a white knuckle, heart-pounding, fantastic read.† Those superlatives get tossed around far too easily in the world of thrillers, but in Child 44ís case, they are very much deserved.† Far and away one of the best books of 2008.

Reviews of other titles in this Trilogy

Child 44 [audio] [book]
Secret Speech [audio] [book]
Agent 6 [audio] [review]

The Book

Grand Central Publishing / Hachette Book Group
April 29, 2008
0446402389 / 978-0446402385
More at

The Reviewer

Jeff Shelby
Reviewed 2008
NOTE:Reviewer Jeff Shelby is the author of Killer Swell.
© 2008