Child 44 Review
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It’s not often that I find a novel that’s both gripping and thought-provoking—and it’s even less often that that novel comes from a first-time author. And that’s just a part of what makes Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 such a wonderful surprise.

This chilling novel takes place in the Soviet Union of the 1950s—a country that’s ruled by Stalin and closely watched by the State Security Force (also known as the MGB). Leo Demidov is a handsome war hero, as well as a dedicated State Security officer who’s quickly risen through the ranks. He’s fiercely loyal, and he won’t hesitate to use the necessary force to track down—and punish—his country’s enemies.

One day, Leo’s loyalty is shaken when he’s forced to hunt down a suspected spy—one who, Leo later believes, is completely innocent. As Leo begins to lose his faith in the MGB—an agency that he’s beginning to see as bloodthirsty and unjust—he stumbles upon the case of a murdered child. The MGB has concluded that the child’s death was an accident—a conclusion that Leo originally supported. But Leo begins to realize that not only was the child’s death not an accident—but it’s also not the only one of its kind. Somewhere in the Soviet Union, a killer is on the loose—and while the MGB continues to deny the problem, Leo decides that it’s his job to solve the case and bring the murderer to justice.

The same old book review cliches just can’t explain what a great novel Child 44 is. Words like “gripping” and “engrossing” might be appropriate—but they seem too weak to describe this stunning debut.

Admittedly, rookie novelist Smith’s style takes a little getting used to. Instead of quotation marks, he uses italics—which sometimes gives the story a rather hazy, dream-like feel. He also switches points-of-view rather quickly—and often without warning. And those unexpected transitions sometimes break up the story’s rhythm and pacing. But it’s definitely worth the effort.

Child 44 is set in a paranoid world of guilty until proven guilty—a world that Smith depicts in vivid detail, both visually and theoretically. As you read, you’ll see the grim Russian streets, the tiny apartments. You’ll feel the characters’ fear, and you’ll struggle with them as they try to decide how to handle each challenging situation—all the while weighing the consequences of their actions.

But at the heart of the story is one fascinating character. Trained to trust no one—and to suspect everyone—Leo always did what he was told and was rewarded for his blind loyalty. He was a good man with a bad job. Smith does an exceptional job of taking his readers inside Leo’s mind—and as he finally begins to see the MGB for what it really is, the sudden awakening is gut-wrenching.

As the story continues, it builds—quickly picking up speed and growing in suspense, throwing in new twists along the way, until it’s absolutely impossible to set the book aside and think about something else. The story packs a serious punch—so serious, in fact, that some moments will knock the wind right out of you. And the dilemmas that the characters face along the way will keep you thinking, wondering what you’d do in their precarious position.

Thrilling and thoughtful, Child 44 is a literary adventure that you won’t soon forget. It’s easily one of the best books I’ve read so far this year, and I highly recommend picking it up.

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