Child 44


A propulsive, relentless page-turner.
A terrifying evocation of a paranoid world where no one can be trusted.
A surprising, unexpected story of love and family, of hope and resilience.
CHILD 44 is a ...
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Child 44

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A propulsive, relentless page-turner.
A terrifying evocation of a paranoid world where no one can be trusted.
A surprising, unexpected story of love and family, of hope and resilience.
CHILD 44 is a thriller unlike any you have ever read.

"There is no crime."

Stalin's Soviet Union strives to be a paradise for its workers, providing for all of their needs. One of its fundamental pillars is that its citizens live free from the fear of ordinary crime and criminals.

But in this society, millions do live in fear . . . of the State. Death is a whisper away. The mere suspicion of ideological disloyalty-owning a book from the decadent West, the wrong word at the wrong time-sends millions of innocents into the Gulags or to their executions. Defending the system from its citizens is the MGB, the State Security Force. And no MGB officer is more courageous, conscientious, or idealistic than Leo Demidov.

A war hero with a beautiful wife, Leo lives in relative luxury in Moscow, even providing a decent apartment for his parents. His only ambition has been to serve his country. For this greater good, he has arrested and interrogated.

Then the impossible happens. A different kind of criminal-a murderer-is on the loose, killing at will. At the same time, Leo finds himself demoted and denounced by his enemies, his world turned upside down, and every belief he's ever held shattered. The only way to save his life and the lives of his family is to uncover this criminal. But in a society that is officially paradise, it's a crime against the State to suggest that a murderer-much less a serial killer-is in their midst. Exiled from his home, with only hiswife, Raisa, remaining at his side, Leo must confront the vast resources and reach of the MBG to find and stop a criminal that the State won't admit even exists.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A Selection of Barnes & Noble Recommends
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
Marilyn Stasio
…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
Publishers Weekly

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.
Library Journal

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.]
—Barbara Conaty

Kirkus Reviews
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
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.
Scott Turow
"CHILD 44 is a remarkable debut novel-inventive, edgy, and relentlessly gripping from the first page to the last."
Robert Towne
"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."
Lee Child
"An amazing debut—rich, different, fully-formed, mature...and thrilling."
Nelson Demille
"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
"Sensational...crackling...Smith's prose is propulsive...his real genius is his careful elaborate mystery."—Entertainment Weekly

"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."—Chicago Tribune

Entertainment Weekly
"Sensational...crackling...Smith's prose is propulsive...his real genius is his careful elaborate mystery."
Chicago Tribune
"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."
Sun Sentinel
"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."
The Barnes & Noble Review
Imagine a world, if you will, where crime does not exist. A startling proposition that seems outlandish, but our imaginations, of course, need not be bounded by the rules and restrictions imposed by realism. It would be a world, one might suppose, where equality reigned, where the thought of violence was so alien that it need not be practiced. People would smile more. They would cooperate more. And they would create a microcosm of peace that, town by town, country by country, could grow exponentially into worldwide tranquility.

Or maybe not. After all, Stalinist Russia operated under a policy, strictly enforced, that "there is no crime." This was a Communist society, where social excesses were supposed to wither away and disappear and where the concept of violent death "had a natural drama which no doubt appealed to certain types of fanciful people." So murders, no matter how horrific, were instead classified as accidents, if they were even investigated at all. The thought of any criminal disruption to the social order was even more suspicious than the general level of state-induced distrust that sent millions to the Gulag or to their deaths. There was no crime, perhaps, but only in the sense that the State held its customary monopoly in this aspect of life, as well.

This is the world depicted in Tom Rob Smith's stunning debut thriller Child 44, a novel that manages the rare feat of improving after a second reading. The first time around, I admired Smith's ability to shed his 28-year-old, London-based screenwriter self for a similarly aged protagonist obeying the statutes of the early 1950s version of the KGB, but spent more time in a state of surprise, caught up in the thriller elements. Rereading Child 44 brought out the novel's meatier pleasures, its ability to create vivid characters in a world both alien to our own and chillingly recognizable.

Leo Demidov, a member of the MGB (as the State Security Force was called in 1953), follows orders. If his bosses tell him to visit the family of his colleague Fyodor Andreev and reassure him that his four-year-old son Arkady died of an accidental drowning and was not (as members of Fyodor's family insist) raped and murdered with dirt shoved into his mouth, Leo does it. If the MGB insists that middle-aged Anatoly Brodsky is a traitor and a spy with information on other suspicious types that can only be gleaned by breaking bones and the administration of a crude truth serum called sodium camphor, Leo does those very things. So what if the truth is covered up, if confessions are false or the soothing words to a devastating family add further poison? This is the culture Leo lives in: Not only is there no crime, there is no trust.

Smith has us watch as the shaky ground upon which Leo's livelihood is founded on gives way, one fault line at a time. The cases of Anatoly Brodsky and Arkady Andreev leave Leo with glimmers of dissatisfaction, as well as a palpable sense that perhaps the culture of distrust is hardly indicative of a superior society. Then things become a good deal less abstract: Leo's wife, Raisa, an elementary school teacher in a state-sponsored Moscow institution, falls under suspicion of the MGB. Leo is placed in a dilemma no less heart-rending for being predictable: turn Raisa in and save his and his parents' lives, or proclaim her innocence and face the worst? The answer seems obvious to the reader but Smith shrouds Leo's decision in considerable suspense by making the stakes so high as to be unbearable. Child 44 has no room for inconsequential choices because Stalinist Russia had no room for them either.

What happens next once again gives rise to themes beyond the ordinary purview of the police procedural. Leo is shipped off to a remote small town, demoted to the lowliest rank of police investigator. When another child is murdered, brutalized in the same fashion Arkady officially was not, Leo discerns a pattern not only of an active monster but of his own blindness, a willingness to compartmentalize and see only what he chooses that has persisted since childhood.

This lack of insight into his true self is made clearest in Leo's interactions with Raisa, the perfect metaphor for the Soviet culture of fear and also for the faint hope of a greater redemption. What was once a marriage built on practicalities is irrevocably altered by their changed circumstances, and the portrait Smith paints is of a young woman, without the need to cling to civility for survival, bent on speaking the truth, no matter how vituperative her emotions become:

...what was she supposed to do? Pretend he'd risked everything for a perfect love? It wasn't something she could just conjure on demand. Even if she'd wanted to pretend, she didn't know how: she didn't know what to say, what motions to go through. She could have been easier on him. In truth, some part of her must have relished his demotion. Not out of spite of vindictiveness but because she wanted him to know: this is how I feel every day. Powerless, scared -- she'd wanted him to feel it, too. She'd wanted him to understand, to experience it for himself.

Smith also demonstrates that Leo's powerlessness is his greatest weapon in catching a serial child murder cloistered by a society fixated on the nonexistence of crime. The details of the investigation itself may seem a tad haphazard to the sophisticated crime fiction reader, but they are rooted in an abject lack of communication between towns afflicted by similar crimes. Even if the penultimate twist is overly telegraphed by the prologue -- a stark, harrowing section that could stand well on its own -- it also allows Leo to reflect further on the connectedness of his childhood and adult worlds and how he missed key links: "Had he chosen this path, or had it chosen him? Had this been the reason he'd been drawn into the investigation when there was every reason to look the other way?"

Child 44 does not offer pat answers to this question, only suggestions that a society founded on secrecy and suspicion will thwart meaningful connections and support corroded ones. The success with which Leo's dark tale is played out against this broad thematic canvas portends great things for Smith, as well as for Leo, left with the vision to discern everywhere the evidence of crimes both terrifyingly specific, and monstrously general. --Sarah Weinman

Sarah Weinman reviews crime fiction for the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun and blogs about the genre at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind (

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455561438
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/31/2015
  • Series: Child 44 Trilogy Series
  • Edition description: Media Tie
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 357,059

Meet the Author

Tom Rob Smith
TOM ROB SMITH graduated from Cambridge in 2001 and lives in London. CHILD 44 is his first novel.


After graduating from Cambridge University in 2001 and spending a year in Italy on a creative writing scholarship, Tom Rob Smith went to work writing scripts and storylines for British television. He lived for a while in Phnom Penh, working on Cambodia's first-ever soap opera and doing freelance screenwriting in his spare time.

While researching material for a film adaptation of a short story by British sci-fi writer Jeff Noon, Smith stumbled across the real-life case of "Rostov Ripper" Andrei Chikkatilo, a Russian serial killer who murdered more than 60 women and children in the 1980s. Chikkatilo's killing spree went unchecked for nearly 13 years, largely because Soviet officials refused to admit that crime existed in their perfect state. Intrigued, Smith recognized the potential of this concept as a work of fiction and worked up a script "treatment." His agent, however, suggested the material would be better showcased in a novel.

The result was Child 44, a gripping crime thriller about a Soviet policeman determined to stop a child serial killer his superiors won't even admit exists. Smith upped the action ante by setting the story in the Stalinist era of the 1950s, a period when opposing the state could cost you your life. And, in MGB officer Leo Stepanovich Demidov, he created the most fascinating Russian detective since Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko.

Child 44 became the object of an intense bidding war at the 2007 London Book Fair. (The buzz only increased when director Ridley Scott bought the film rights.) But the book proved worthy of its hype, garnering glowing reviews on its publication in the spring of 2008. Scott Turow (no slouch in the thriller department himself) proclaimed, "Child 44 is a remarkable debut novel -- inventive, edgy and relentlessly gripping from the first page to the last."

Good To Know

  • "One of my first jobs was working in a sports complex, and I had to fill up all the vending machines. It was boring work and lonely, carrying boxes of Mars Bars down very long, fluorescent-lit corridors. But a moment sticks out. I was restocking a machine when a young boy, maybe five years old, approached me and asked if he could have a chocolate bar. I told him they were for sale: he needed to buy one. He thought about this very seriously for a while, ran off, and came back five minutes later with a conker [horse chestnut]. He honestly believed this was a fair exchange. I guess it must have had some value to him. Anyway, I gave him the chocolate bar for free. It wasn't mine, I suppose, to give away, but it made a dull day a little brighter."

  • "My Swedish grandparents used to be beekeepers. They made the best honey I've ever tasted. I spent my summer holidays living on their farm. It was a wonderful place to spend a summer. My parents, now retired, live on a small farm -- a different farm -- near the sea in the South of Sweden. So now I have another place to retreat from the world. They're not beekeepers though."

  • "I like running, although I suffer from a problem with my knees. They slide out of position, which has caused me some problems recently. If anyone out there can help, I'd be more than happy to hear suggestions. Hours of physiotherapy haven't really worked."
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      1. Hometown:
        London, England
      1. Date of Birth:
        February 19, 1979
      2. Place of Birth:
        London, England
      1. Education:
        St. John's College, Cambridge, 2001
      2. Website:

    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.
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    Reading Group Guide

    Questions for Discussion
    1. Leo's character evolves over the course of the book. What do you see as the most significant catalyst for change?

    2. What propels Leo to go forward in his quest for the murderer: fear, compassion, or a sense of justice?

    3. The relationship between Vasili and Leo is contentious from the beginning. Does Vasili feel pure hate, contempt, or jealousy for Leo? Why?

    4. When Raisa reveals the truth of their marriage to Leo, were you surprised at his reaction? Would you have made similar choices under the circumstances? When does personal conviction trump duty and loyalty?

    5. Who do you think was ultimately responsible for incriminating Raisa. What would it be like to live in a society in which everyone is under suspicion of crimes against the state?

    6. Does the book's portrayal of life in a totalitarian state remind you of any other books?

    7. In 1953, the year of Stalin's death, there were 2,468,524 prisoners in the Gulag system. Do you think that legacy affects Russian culture today?

    8. Which character's duplicity or innocence did you find most surprising, and why?

    Further Reading
    Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum
    I Want to Live: The Diary of a Young Girl in Stalinist Russia by Nina Lugovskaya
    The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
    A Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine by Robert Conquest
    Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Montefiore
    Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times -- Soviet Russia in the 1930s by Sheila Fitzpatrick
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