The Secret Speech Review
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A year ago, Tom Rob Smith blew me away with his best-selling debut novel, Child 44. I couldn’t wait to see where this talented new author would take his readers next—and I was thrilled to find that he’s returned to the Soviet Union, to the characters that I’ve grown to love.

Smith’s follow-up, The Secret Speech, picks up the story three years after Child 44, in 1956, as former state security officer turned homicide detective Leo Demidov is still struggling to rebuild his life while building his family. Despite the challenges they’ve endured, Leo and his wife, Raisa, have been able to save their marriage, and their adopted daughter, Elena, is becoming more and more comfortable with her new parents. The problem, however, is Elena’s older sister, Zoya. The headstrong teenager blames Leo for her parents’ deaths—and she’s determined to get revenge.

But Zoya isn’t the only one who’s out for revenge—nor is she the only one who’s suffered because of Leo’s former occupation. Now that Stalin is dead, his successor, Khrushchev, is determined to change the Soviet Union. In a speech that’s distributed throughout the country, he denounces the actions of his predecessor—and the agents who carried out his orders. With everything out in the open, former MGB officers are in danger, and one particularly bitter woman from Leo’s past threatens his life—and, worse, his family.

The Secret Speech is another engrossing thriller—a read that races along at breakneck speed, traveling from the streets of Moscow to the gulags in cold, desolate Siberia.

Now, however, instead of the story of a man whose eyes have been opened to the error of his ways, it’s the story of a man who’s struggling to come to terms with his past—and to find some kind of peace and redemption. Leo is a good man who did some really bad things—and he’s trying to find some way to make up for it. He’s trying to create a loving home for two of the victims of the State’s crimes, and he’s trying to stop the criminals who have been allowed to run rampant under Stalin’s rule. Still, he knows that’s not enough—and when he’s once again confronted with the crimes in his past, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to right those wrongs, even if it means sacrificing himself. He’s not superhuman, and he often struggles with his decisions—and that makes him a character that readers will understand and care about.

Still, though the story works quite well as a standalone novel, I recommend reading Child 44 first—to get more of a feel for the characters and their pasts. Smith develops his characters quite well, but you’ll understand their actions even more if you know what they’ve been through. Starting with Child 44 will also help you adjust to Smith’s unusual style. It definitely takes some getting used to (especially when it comes to the dialogue). But, this time, the writing is tighter, and the story flows even better than before.

The Secret Speech is a stunning sophomore release—a high-speed historical thriller that once again poses a number of challenges and moral dilemmas for its careworn hero. It’s another thoughtful and satisfying novel from a talented young author—and I highly recommend picking up a copy of your own.

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