Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Listened to: "Child 44" by Tom Rob Smith

Listened to: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, 2008, downloaded from

Started strong, went weak in the middle, finished okay. A serial killer story where the real villain is the Soviet government.

Leo is a war hero and an MGB officer. The MGB was a predecessor of the KBG and a scary group of nut jobs. Leo is a true believer in the State and has been arresting people for years. That those people are executed or sent to die in Siberia is not his concern. In 1953 Moscow Leo gets called away from observing a veterinarian suspected of subversion to mollify the family of a MGB foot soldier who says their four-year-old son was murdered.

Murder does not exist in the USSR's socialist paradise and to say differently is subversion. Actually, anything is subversive. Everyone is suspicious and everyone is guilty. You are screwed the moment the MGB starts looking at you. Leo pacifies the family and they sign off that the murder was an accident. Leo goes back to the vet investigation. Chases the vet down. The vet - through the weasel-ness of Leo's colleagues - names Leo's wife as a spy. Leo does not denounce his wife and they both survive the investigation only because Stalin just died and no one is sure what to do. "Do we kill Leo and his wife or not? Are we at risk by killing Leo? Are we at risk by letting him go? Hell, let's reassign him to Nowhere, Russia as a low level street cop. We can always kill him later."

Leo goes to Nowhere, Russia, finds a similar murder to the four-year-old boy, recognizes the killer's pattern, sees the murders as a chance at redemption, convinces his superior to help investigate, they both get caught doing so, Leo goes on the lam, finds the killer, kills the killer, and is let go again.

Good things: 1 - The Soviet government and its machinations make a great villain even without individual characters to tag that evil onto. 2 - Leo and his wife are well done. That his wife married Leo from fear that Leo would have her killed if she rejected him was a neat twist. 3 - The paranoia of characters to avoid trouble from the government. 4 - Good use of setting in Moscow, the factory town in Nowhere, Russia, and the weather.

Bad Things: 1 - The killer ends up being Leo's long lost brother - what a load of bullshit. You can see it coming but it is still baloney and over the top. 2 - The villain posited against Leo, Vassily, was not so scary or threatening. 3 - The final ending with Leo and wife getting off scot-free after capture was a big, big stretch.

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