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Child 44

Child 44

4.2 1305
by Tom Rob Smith

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In a country ruled by fear, no one is innocent.

Stalin's Soviet Union is an official paradise, where citizens live free from crime and fear only one thing: the all-powerful state. Defending this system is idealistic security officer Leo Demidov, a war hero who believes in the iron fist of the law. But when a



In a country ruled by fear, no one is innocent.

Stalin's Soviet Union is an official paradise, where citizens live free from crime and fear only one thing: the all-powerful state. Defending this system is idealistic security officer Leo Demidov, a war hero who believes in the iron fist of the law. But when a murderer starts to kill at will and Leo dares to investigate, the State's obedient servant finds himself demoted and exiled. Now, with only his wife at his side, Leo must fight to uncover shocking truths about a killer-and a country where "crime" doesn't exist.

Editorial Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
"Sensational...crackling...Smith's prose is propulsive...his real genius is his careful potting...an 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."
From the Publisher
"Sensational...crackling...Smith's prose is propulsive...his real genius is his careful potting...an 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

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)

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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
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."
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."

Product Details

Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
Child 44 Trilogy Series , #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.25(d)

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.

What People are Saying About This

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.
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.
Raymond Khoury
"CHILD 44 telegraphs the talent and class of its writer from its opening pages, transporting you back to the darkest days of postwar Soviet Russia with assured efficiency and ruthlessly drawing you into its richly atmospheric and engrossing tale."--(Raymond Khoury, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Templar and Sanctuary)

Meet the Author

International #1 bestselling author Tom Rob Smith graduated from Cambridge University in 2001 and lives in London. His novels in the Child 44 trilogy were New York Times bestsellers and international publishing sensations. Among its many honors, Child 44 won the ITW 2009 Thriller Award for Best First Novel, The Strand Magazine 2008 Critics Award for Best First Novel, the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Brief Biography

London, England
Date of Birth:
February 19, 1979
Place of Birth:
London, England
St. John's College, Cambridge, 2001

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Child 44 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1305 reviews.
Janus More than 1 year ago
Tom Rob Smith's debut is an excellent book. If I was able to, I'd give it 4.5 stars. Smith's plotting is dynamically executed and his prose is phenomenal. Not only did I find myself devouring the book, but I found that it has created a strong interest in literature of similar topics (specifically Stalinist Russia). Having studied the case which the novel is based off of, I can say that Smith did a good job tying the fictional to the facts. Now for my few gripes, and believe me, they are small. Despite the uniqueness of the characters and Smith's excellent portrayal of them, I never really connected to anyone. I really liked Leo, but it's challenging to relate to the types of characters that are in this book. Second, at times I felt like Smith was beating the whole 'see how tense it was in Stalinist Russia' thing to death. He kept reminding us of the things that did or didn't happen in such a paranoid state, and sometimes it was just too much. Lastly, the twist was a bit cliche. I believe it is Jasper Fforde who makes fun of the various stereotypical plot devices used by giving them numbers (i.e. "looks like a plot device 27 to me sir"). Smith's twist was definitely a plot device number whatever, but by the time you find out, you don't care because the rest of the book is so enjoyable.
Peej More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book because it was on Barnes & Noble recommends and for members was a really cheap price. The summary on the inside cover also intrigued me.

This is one of the best books I have read recently. The plot is tight and intriguing. The first little bit was a little slow, but once I got going, I couldn't stop reading.

I also loved the characters. Though they are strong, they have definite flaws, but you don't resent them because of those flaws. This is a fantastic book that I widely recommend. Can't wait for more by Mr. Smith.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I hadn't realized when I picked this book up that it had so many graphic torture scenes. The dust cover promised a story about the search for a serial killer. After 150 pages there was only a hint of this storyline so I gave up. Not what I expected.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I must say goimg into this book I wasn't sure I would enjoy it considering I'm not a big fan of mystery books but by the end of the book all doubts were gone. Tom Rob Smith did an amazing job of capturing the paranoia of Stalin's Soviet Union. The Story follows Leo Demidov, a veteren of the Great Patriotic War and a high ranking official in the Soviet secret police. He and his wife set out to investigate the murders of several young children throughout the Soviet Union, that have been denied by the police in an effort to establish the feeling of a perfect society. Truth that he finds proves to be more shocking than he could have ever imagined. Child 44 is one of the best books I have read and highly suggest. Thanks for reading another D.Z. review.
eurekatpt More than 1 year ago
I read this ebook from my library so I can't attest to the quality of the B&N download. However, pertaining to the book itself: At first I felt this was a little haphazard - it seemed the author had several different agendas for the plot & theme. The more I got into it, though, things tied together very nicely. By the end, I couldn't put it down because everything was tying together. There are several "Wait, what?! Oh!" moments that totally got me. The murder mystery/thriller side was fun, but I also really appreciated the insight into 1953 Soviet politics & culture. I normally hate political sections of books, but the author tied the politics & culture in nicely so that it was all interesting and relevant to the plot. Overall a great read and I would definitely recommend to others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
couldn't put it down once I started. Great plot twists and story all together. You won't be disappointed
JarrahZack More than 1 year ago
The crimes are suitably heinous. The mystery stubbornly (and enjoyably) refuses to unravel until the final sequences. As is usually the case with these kinds of books, the killer turns out to have a special connection to the protagonist. If that's all there was to Child 44, then it would just be another forgettable mystery-thriller. What makes it special is the author's assured writing and an incredible setting. We get to experience the dread and paranoia that exists among the ordinary citizens of the Soviet Union, as well as within their law enforcement. The mystery side of the story is often overshadowed by the thriller aspects of the book. Much of the novel is a long chase across the country with many participants. There are plenty of thwarted plans, narrow escapes and surprise revelations. It's enough to make me add the sequel to my list of books to read.
karen southern More than 1 year ago
Child 44 kept me on the edge of my seat. Very unpredictable with a lot of exciting twists and turns. I couldn't wait to read the sequel: The Secret Speech, which was also good.. I have been searching for a suspense novel of this quality every since.
Pugitis More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I heard rumors that they may be making a movie of it also. I hope so. It is definitely worth the time to take to read this one!
Ann47 More than 1 year ago
I'll never forget this book. I had trouble putting it down. It is somewhat depressing to read how the people in Russia lived during this time. It has a lot of historical fact about Russia during Stalin's reign and is a very suspenseful mystery. So, if you are looking for light reading that is fun or romantic, this isn't for you. But if you like mysteries with a twist, you will love it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wasn't sure what to expect with this one. War or the history surrounding war has never been particularly interesting to me, but the brief description of the main character's struggle on the book jacket made me want to buy it. I held on to it for a while, passing it by for other books, before actually reading it. When I started the book, I couldn't wait to finish it. The strength displayed by the characters was astonishing. Had I found myself in any of the situations they were in, I would have folded like a deck of cards. I know this is fiction, but the fear and misery seemed very real to me. I know I haven't said much (because I don't want to give anything away) but I needed to say something. I think everyone should read this book.
TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
The book starts off with the gruesome story of survival in 1930's Russia. It only gets more brutal from there. It jumps forward 20 years to Stalin era Soviet Union, where paranoia reigns, trust is in short supply, and no one is innocent. Torture in the name of justice, false confessions and betrayals for the sake of survival, crime coverups in the name of propaganda... these are just some of the atrocities depicted. Leo, the main character is a rising star with the MGB. He is a truthseeker -- So long as the truth benefits the government. When confronted with a man he believes to be truly innocent of any crime, his world starts to unravel. Questioning the government and its methods is not in the script and he is soon denounced as a traitor and demoted. Sent to the east. While there, he begins to investigate a serial child murderer. His (and his wife's) life is in danger however, because it is not in the government's interest to believe a rational man could be responsible for these children's deaths. As far as the government is concerned each child's death is easily attributed to the lunatics, homosexuals, and Nazi infiltrators. But Leo is willing to risk life and limb in order to get to the truth.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting mystery. It is a little slow at times but i enjoyed the story overall.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Be prepared to settle in for a thrilling page turner. This book would be appealing to a man or woman young adult or senior citizen. Yes it is fiction but also insightful. Oh shucks just read it.
DrIreland More than 1 year ago
This novel is beautifully humanistic; tragically and heartrendingly real. This story is one that you dread will end, and then applaud the author when it does. Tom Rob Smith provides his readers with a fantastic plot, characters, and a believable and reliable tale that deserves praise for its endearing qualities and scrupulous attention to the qualities of human emotion and behavior.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You will not be able to put this book down. Unbelievable tempo, characters, and insight into an era of communist russia that has not been described so vividly to date.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There are so few stories that give so much insight into the Soviet Union. Could not put down this book or the others in the trilogy! Passed them on to hubby with the same results.
GR12 More than 1 year ago
Great book. stayed up all night reading it. Although the Iron Curtain was before my time. From what I've heard this was very much what it must have been like to live back in Russia in those times. By no means is this a book about history, it's a book about a man who has everything he has ever believed in turned upside down. Hunted by the people and the state that he fought his whole life for, built his life around. This is a book you really must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book took a little while to get into, but it was worth it. The reader gets an insight into communist russia,but mixed with a thriller.
Mupples More than 1 year ago
One reviewer wrote it was terrible because it was violently graphic. Its called Russian socialism under Stalinist rule. Not all realities in life are romantic or sweet, and this particular chapter in human history especially gruesome. I thought this book was very realistic and worthy of my time.
mimimoo More than 1 year ago
Seriously terrible story. This book was so violently graphic I had to stop reading it. the story (not that there is much of one) is not what the synopsis describes. Don't waste your time with this book, its beyond terrible.
sbrita More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended and I'm glad I bought it. I'm not a big fan of murder mysteries but towards the end I couldn't put this one down. Smith has a great writing style that is very character driven. The story follows a young "MGB" agent through his transformation of agent of the state to someone who needs to confront his past and the path he has chosen. I don't want to give too much away since its a murder mystery, but its worth reading if you want a good piece of fiction. The story is told in Russia and the tone, descriptions and lifestyle of Stalin-ruled Soviet-Union is done very very well. Reminds me a bit of Gorky-Park from the '80's. The one knock I have is that it seems very formulaic. Every lingering question or open issue seems to get wrapped up right at the very end. I feel Smith may have had a check list sitting beside is computer to make sure he tied everything up before the final period - but honestly, a small criticism for a decent book.
Angela2932ND More than 1 year ago
Imagine you live in a society which is perfect, must be perfect, and is set in contrast with "evil" western capitalism. This is a world in which no challenge to this ideology can be tolerated. This is a world in which the MGB, the state secret police, will arrest anyone who is believed to be questioning this view of the world, or presenting a challenge to protecting this "utopia." This is 1953 Stalinist Russia. But this is a world in which anyone, at any time, can fall under the suspicion of the MGB, including Leo Demidov, one of its officers. He and his wife, Raisa, are sent away, to a small town along the train line, and it is here that Leo comes to realize that his own actions were complicit in helping a serial killer of young children remain free, protected by the ideologically demanded "blindness" to flaws of Russia. Leo becomes committed to finding the killer. In the process, however, he is forced to see how those around him really view him, now that he is no longer cloaked in the power of the MGB. When his wife is able to drop the mask of being a true believer of all the State's methods and goals, he must question his previous notions of being owed love, and what he now has the right to ask of others. Now, every move that Leo makes will be under scrutiny, without protection, and he can no longer confidently know from what source the greatest threat to his life will be. This is a gripping, disturbing, and yet fascinating read, giving a glimpse of the history of Russia. But perhaps most disturbing is the realization that although the book is set in 1953, the author drew upon the events of an actual child/serial murderer, Andrei Chikatilo, the Butcher of Rostov, who killed at least 53 women and children between 1978 to 1990.
smgSG More than 1 year ago
I was surprised how much I was engaged in this book. I couldn't put it down once I started reading. The characters were really gripping and I couldn't believe how well the story read.
UglyCook More than 1 year ago
I stayed up far too late with this one. A close look into the Soviet system of creating a perfect society when in fact there is a serial killer on the loose. Unquestioning loyalty turns to ethical struggles and characters find themselves in surprising and touching ways.