“Trust but check. Check on those we trust.”
Child 44, a suspenseful and fast read, this novel captures beautifully well what it feels like to live in a dictatorial police state, in a way where a person must think in order to survive. Tom Smith clearly delineates the detective’s line of thought, along with the characters thoughts, to show that way of thinking which then defines actions.
Child 44 is set up in the 1950’s era of Soviet Union. A child was found dead with soil in his mouth and his family are sure that it is a murder case despite the boy’s body was found on the railway track. Leo Demidov, the protagonist/detective, is an MGB agent is sent to calm things and to pursue the family that this is nothing more than a tragic accident. Since the USSR has no crime, the boy’s death is ruled as an accident- a tragic one. But the boy’s death haunts Demidov, and when he comes across identical murder in small town of USSR, he decides to investigate further and find the killer.
This is a fascinating story, set in winter’s to begin and ends up in the height of summer’s heat. Smith switches point of view in interchanging paragraphs at many times which is handled like a pro by him, making very clearly whose POV he’s at each occurrence which could have led to dreadful confusion. But what was confusing at time was the time of day it is- author does not make this point very clearly, specifically at the beginning of scenes. There were times when wondered how Leo is doing things in the dead of night, but it turned out to be midday. What else was missing was richly described settings. Russia has its own very rich landscape of beauty, the very magnificent and almost spiritual forests which could have added to Leo’s love for his country and deepening his character.
Tom Smith has carefully shown the psychology of people living in a totalitarian police state, but missed the mark with the psychological problem of serial killer. His serial killer character Andrei is far too rational, too self-aware and without any motivating inner fantasy to be convincing killer. The murders are about sending messages than showing the powerlessness Andrei feels- indeed most of the characters feel powerless in the face of the State and – a serial killer need domination, power and control to be a freak killer. Many serial killings are also sex crimes even when rape is not involved but there was little indication on this when reading Andrei’s POV.
The essence of thriller depends upon its plausibility. However, this could have been close to a perfect thriller were it not for some exciting, interesting but to the ultimately implausible events towards the end of the book.
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