In a country ruled by fear, no one is innocent.
Child 44 is a crime thriller novel set in 1950’s Soviet Russia, the first of a trilogy. In a country that advertises itself as a crime free utopia, Leo Demidov is a MGB agent tasked to discreetly investigate a series of child murders without allowing the public to know it ever happened. Unfortunately, this often means arresting and torturing the very first suspect until they confess.
This is Smith’s debut novel and I could immediately tell what sold it. Reading from the perspective of highly deluded, government agent within the Soviet Union is not something you get to see every day and it was very interesting to shadow his life.
For a thriller, the first one hundred pages of the novel does feel a little slow due to the amount of time it takes Smith to set up the main plot and setting of the story, but as soon as the first twist wrenches itself into Leo’s already “on edge” life, it’s all action from there.
The plot is full of mystery and mania throughout the entire world, not just Leo. Every character feels uniquely purposed and disturbed, and every town or city visited has its own, well developed atmosphere.
Smith seems to be most interested in exploring what length people will go to against their own humanity in order to keep themselves alive. Most of the characters in this novel are ruthless and notably brainwashed by the society that they live in. Making mistakes is an act of treason, being in the wrong place at the wrong time is undeniable evidence of guilt. The consequence is always torture, followed by death.
Sadly, readers may find the novel to lose its credibility towards the end. The novel takes turns that seem far too convenient to realistically happen, even altering a few crucial characters’ normal behavior with no attempt at reason.
Overall though, I would say the book is a very fast, exciting read that should keep readers interested and teach them some things about what went on within the dark walls of the post-WWII Soviet Union.
You can catch the movie adaptation of Child 44 in theaters starting April, 17 2015.