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A gripping novel about one man's dogged pursuit of a serial killer against the opposition of Stalinist state security forces, Child 44 is at once suspenseful and provocative. Tom Rob Smith's remarkable debut thriller powerfully dramatizes the human cost of loyalty, integrity, and love in the face of totalitarian terror.
A decorated war hero driven by dedication to his country and faith in the superiority of Communist ideals, Leo Demidov has built a successful career in the Soviet security network, suppressing ideological crimes and threats against the state with unquestioning efficiency. When a fellow officer's son is killed, Leo is ordered to stop the family from spreading the notion that their child was murdered. For in the official version of Stalin's worker's paradise, such a senseless crime is impossible — an affront to the Revolution. But Leo knows better: a murderer is at large, cruelly targeting children, and the collective power of the Soviet government is denying his existence.
Leo's doubt sets in motion a chain of events that changes his understanding of everything he had previously believed. Smith's deftly crafted plot delivers twist after chilling twist, as it lays bare the deceit of the regime that enveloped an impoverished people in paranoia. In a shocking effort to test Leo's loyalty, his wife, Raisa, is accused of being a spy. Leo's refusal to denounce her costs him his rank, and the couple is banished from Moscow. Humiliated, renounced by his enemies, and deserted by everyone save Raisa, Leo realizes that his redemption rests on finding the vicious serial killer who is eviscerating innocent children and leaving them to die in the bleak Russian woods.
The narrative unfolds at a breathless pace, exposing the culture of fear that turns friends into foes and forces families to hide devastating secrets. As Leo and Raisa close in on the serial killer, desperately trying to stay a step ahead of the government's relentless operatives, the reader races with them through a web of intrigue to the novel's heart-stopping conclusion.
About the Author
The serial killer in Child 44, Tom Rob Smith's first novel, was suggested by the true story of Andrei Chikatilo, who murdered over 50 women and children in Russia during the 1980s. By setting his fiction three decades before Chikatilo's crimes, the author has added powerful elements of political suspense to his page-turning tale. "I moved it to the 1950s," Smith explains, "because that's when opposing the state was most dangerous. You'd lose your life in the '50s; if you did it in the '80s you'd lose your apartment." His considerable research into Stalin's Soviet Union supports the powerful human drama at his story's heart.
Though Child 44 is Smith's first novel, his skill as a storyteller and his experience as a screenwriter are apparent in the book's absorbing plot and suspenseful pacing. He points to his days on commuter trains as another influence. "There was no way to do that journey without a book: a book you could get wrapped up in, a book you could read standing up, a book you'd miss your tube stop for. That was the kind of book I wanted to write."
Originally from Norbury in South London, the 28-year-old Smith started writing plays in school and continued while he attended Cambridge, from which he graduated in 2001. After spending a year in Italy on a creative writing scholarship, he became assistant story editor for a British soap opera, then moved to Phnom Penh with the BBC to be the story consultant for Cambodia's first soap opera. He currently lives in London.
From Our Booksellers
A pulse-raising, edge-of-your-seat thriller!
--Laura Brauman, Bourbonnais, IL
Expertly atmospheric and brilliantly quease-inducing.
--Seth Christenfeld, White Plains, NY
If Thomas Harris had set a story in the Gulag, this would have been it.
--Melissa Willits, Carmel, IN
A fascinating look into Stalinist Russia.
--Michele Williams, Long Beach, CA
A brilliant debut thriller that fans of Gorky Park will devour.
--Margie Turkett, Annapolis, MD
…once Leo and his wife are banished to a town in the Ural Mountains, where another murder is committed, the narrative whips into action as a fugitive drama. The language becomes leaner, the style more fluid and cinematic, as Leo's forbidden investigation causes more innocent people to suffer and transforms this onetime war hero into a criminal. In a society riven by fear and mistrust, even a serial killer seems less threatening than a man who has learned to think for himself.
The New York Times
Dennis Boutsikaris expertly conveys the fear and paranoia that permeates Smith's outstanding debut novel of murder in 1950s Stalinist Russia. Leo Demidov, decorated hero of WWII and an officer in Moscow's MGB (a forerunner of the KGB), refuses to denounce his wife as an enemy spy. He is subsequently demoted, disgraced and dispatched, along with his wife, to a backwater factory. A brutal murder with the same characteristics as one Leo was once forced to cover up convinces him that a serial killer is stalking Russian children. Using Russian accents to their full advantage, Boutsikaris infuses his characters' dialogue with a deep sense of downtrodden melancholia. His staid, deliberate reading captures the soul-numbing oppressiveness of life under a totalitarian regime, as well as one man's desperate fight against it in order to do what's right. A Grand Central hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 3). (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Grisly, gruesome, and gory are just three ways to describe this debut novel by young British screenwriter Smith. While adapting a short story by sf writer Jeff Noon, Smith came across the true account of Soviet serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, who after killing more than 50 women and children was executed in 1994. His story inspired Smith to write this grim, 1953-set novel, which ties together just about all of the worst aspects of the Stalinist regime. The Ukrainian famine and the unrelieved horror of the gulag, among other historical hooks, add to the saga of ex-soldier and police official Leo Demidov, who dissects the morbid clues left by the killer. The paradox of crime in a workers' paradise denies any legitimacy to Leo's investigation, since, by definition, such repellent crimes are impossible. With some 20 foreign sales to date and film rights already in Ridley Scott's hands, this successor to Hannibal Lector's lurid mantle has nonstop plotting, a nonstop pace, and even a surprise ending. Horror genre readers will thrill to it; others may be advised to ask for a barf bag as well as their date due slip. Suspense collections in large libraries will likely need several copies to fill waiting lists. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/08.]
During the terror of Stalin's last days, a secret policeman becomes a detective stalking a serial killer in a debut novel from a shockingly talented 28-year-old Brit. Skillfully drawing on the only totalitarian milieu more frightening than the Nazis, Smith opens the book in a village of starving kulaks, where two young brothers set out in the snow to trap the last local cat that hasn't been eaten. Myopic young Andrei throws himself on the frantic feline only to have both cat and older brother Pavel snatched by a mysterious man who bags them and disappears, leaving Andrei to stumble home alone. Both Pavel and Andrei figure later in a plot that shifts to the early '50s as Father Stalin has begun his final mad purges. War hero MGB officer Leo Stepanovich Demidov begins to realize, during the course of performing his brutal State Security duties, that the death of the four-year-old son of a younger associate may not have been as accidental as the official report suggested. Family and neighbors claim that the child was brutally assaulted before being left on the railroad tracks. The problem for good soldier Leo is that in the Glorious Workers' Paradise, where every citizen has everything he needs, there is no such thing as crime. There are only attacks by the corrupt outside world. Leo has another problem. His beautiful wife Raisa, whom he suspects of infidelity, has been charged by Leo's vicious rival Vasili with espionage, and Leo has been ordered to verify that claim. Learning too late that the innocent and faithful Raisa fears rather than loves him, rattled by Vasili's treachery, knowing that he is damaged goods, Leo counts himself lucky to be exiled to duty in a hick town where hediscovers further murders and begins a hair-raising hunt for the perpetrator. Nerve-wracking pace and atmosphere camouflage wild coincidences. Smashing. Film rights to Ridley Scott/Fox 2000. Agent: James Gill/PFD
"Sensational...crackling...Smith's prose is propulsive...his real genius is his careful potting...an elaborate mystery."
"One of the rare pleasures of the book-reviewing trade is first hearing all sorts of advance hype about a novel and then finding out that every word was true."
"Child 44 not only is one of the best mysteries of this year, but it is one of the most remarkable and original debuts in recent years. Set in post WWII Stalinist Russia, Child 44 works equally well as a hard-boiled novel, a political thriller, a regional mystery and an emotional, even romantic story about a couple rediscovering each other. It is at once gritty, chilling, depressing, hopeful and, above all, fascinating...Dennis Boutsikaris is the perfect reader for this story. Boutsikaris, who frequently shows up on Law & Order, captures the story's angst, nuances and accents."
Smith's pacing is relentless; readers wanting to put the book down for a brief rest may find themselves persevering regardless. Expect the same kind of critical acclaim for this compelling tale that greeted the publication of Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park (1981) more than 25 years ago...a very, very good read. Don't miss it.
"CHILD 44 is a remarkable debut novel-inventive, edgy, and relentlessly gripping from the first page to the last."
"Achingly suspenseful, full of feeling and of the twists and turns that one expects from le Carré at his best, CHILD 44 is a tale as fierce as any Russian wolf. It grabs you by the throat and never lets you go."
"An amazing debutrich, different, fully-formed, mature...and thrilling."
"This is a truly remarkable debut novel. CHILD 44 is a rare blend of great insight, excellent writing, and a refreshingly original story. Favorable comparisons to Gorky Park are inevitable, but CHILD 44 is in a class of its own."
"Smith's pacing is relentless; readers wanting to put the book down for a brief rest may find themselves persevering regardless. Expect the same kind of critical acclaim for this compelling tale that greeted the publication of Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park (1981) more than 25 years ago...a very, very good read. Don't miss it."
From the Publisher
"Child 44 not only is one of the best mysteries of this year, but it is one of the most remarkable and original debuts in recent years. Set in post WWII Stalinist Russia, Child 44 works equally well as a hard-boiled novel, a political thriller, a regional mystery and an emotional, even romantic story about a couple rediscovering each other. It is at once gritty, chilling, depressing, hopeful and, above all, fascinating...Dennis Boutsikaris is the perfect reader for this story. Boutsikaris, who frequently shows up on Law & Order, captures the story's angst, nuances and accents."Sun Sentinel
Read an Excerpt
His only ambition was a general one: to serve his country, a country that had defeated fascism, a country that provided free education and health care, that trumpeted the rights of workers around the world, that paid his father -- a munitions worker on an assembly line -- a salary comparable to that of a fully qualified doctor. Although his own employment in the State Security force was frequently unpleasant he understood its necessity, the necessity of guarding their revolution from enemies both foreign and domestic, from those who sought to undermine it and those determined to see it fail. To this end Leo would lay down his life. To this end he'd lay down the lives of others.