Leo Stepanovich Demidov, a war hero and rising star in the MGB--Stalin’s state security force, is proud of his country. Yes, he has to do some unpleasant things, such as supervising the torture of suspected persons—and there are many suspected persons, the list growing daily. But all of that is surely necessary to protect post-World War II’s Russia in Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44.
After all, there is free medical care, education, and many other good things that the corrupt West would like to destroy along with the Motherland. One can never be too careful how things are handled, even when a little boy is found murdered.
Murder is what the parents say and what the witnesses say, at least at first. But there can be no murder in Stalin’s Russia. Everyone knows that by decreasing the levels of wealth between classes what must result is a society free of major crimes. So, there is no murder. It was an accident, as Leo patiently explains to the grieving mother and father.
To suggest otherwise is treason. The parents and witnesses recant, as they must. But that is neither the beginning nor the end of the murders, and it is definitely the beginning of Leo’s fall from his privileged position, where he finds the view outside the bubble of state influence potentially lethal.
Child 44 is a thriller, a mystery, a page-turner, and an examination of another time and place that was brutal and horrifying on a daily basis, so much so that paranoia (though is it paranoia if they really are out to get you?) was stitched into the fabric of daily existence. Highly recommended.