Terror, treachery abound

  • Article by: MICHAEL J. BONAFIELD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 22, 2008 - 11:36 AM

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

The kinetic energy sizzles and cracks from the very first page of this powerful debut novel.

It's 1954, and the Iron Curtain has fallen across Europe. In Russia, everyone, including state officials, lives in abject fear. In this nightmare world where tens of millions have perished in the Gulag, the gruesome deaths of children at the hands of a maniac are a footnote, something whispered about but never reported -- until it touches the life of an officer of the state security force.

Leo Demidov defends the regime from enemies real (few) and imagined (countless). He has arrested thousands in his career, virtually all of them innocent, and he knows it. He is a true believer in the Communist ideal, where the very idea of something as antisocial as a serial child killer is itself subversive. Yet he is drawn into the hunt, confronting what for him is the ultimate moral dilemma: How can one search for a serial killer in a land where the state itself is a serial killer?

This epiphany shifts the story into overdrive, forcing Leo to question everything of importance in his life, not least his marriage to a woman he suspects of treachery, political as well as personal. The author's understanding of the Soviet mind-set and security apparatus is excellent and his knowledge of Russian culture and the language is a bonus, adding texture and convincing atmosphere.

Moreover, the writing is genuinely gifted, muscular yet supple, and laced with stunning imagery. Demidov is tormented by a dream in which he tracks his latest innocent victim across a frozen river, only to see the faces and limbs of his previous victims roiling under the ice. This is one of the hottest books of the summer. Don't miss it.

 

  • CHILD 44: A NOVEL

    By: Tom Rob Smith

    Publisher: Grand Central, 438 pages, $25.

    Review: Gifted writing and a great plot make this debut novel a real page-turner.

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