In Stalin’s Soviet Union, crime does not exist, but millions live in fear 17

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In Stalin’s Soviet Union, crime does not exist. But still millions live in fear. The mere suspicion of disloyalty to the State, the wrong word at the wrong time, can send an innocent person to his execution. In  Child 44, Tom Rob Smith  takes us into this totalitarian world.

Leo Demidov is a security officer in Stalin’s Soviet Russia and a decorated war hero who has attained the respect and trust of his Superiors and enjoys some privileges as a result. With his wife Raisa, they live in a reasonably comfortable apartment and Leo has been able to provide his parents with comfortable accommodation as well. His second in command, Vasili, is extremely resentful of Leo’s good standing with the powers that be and quietly goes about undermining his decisions and actions in an effort to discredit him.

Leo is requested by his Superior officer to investigate a suspected murder of a child, to reassure the parents that the unfortunate death of their son has been a terrible accident; nothing more.  In an effort to do just that, Leo is confronted by an angry community, convinced that he is not interested in finding out the truth.

Kuzmin, Leo’s Superior officer sets him a different challenge: to take part in an interrogation of a suspected traitor.  Leo’s investigation of this case has convinced him that Brodsky is innocent, but Vasili has managed to persuade Kuzmin to let Leo lead the interrogation to prove his loyalty to the Government. To be accused of such a crime inevitably leads to a conviction of guilty in Stalin’s Russia, regardless of proof of innocence.

In the meantime, Leo’s wife has been under surveillance also, suspected of working with foreign agencies and Kuzmin presents Leo with some photos which seem to prove Raisa has been meeting with a traitor.  Leo is commanded to undertake his own investigations of Raisa, report back to Kuzmin and affirm their suspicions are correct.  Aware if he doesn’t, he and Raisa will be outcasts or imprisoned, Leo refuses to denounce his wife, instead, maintaining her innocence.

Leo and Raisa are consequently banished to a large industrial city where Leo is to work as a lowly official in the local militia, and Raisa to continue as a teacher at the school.  Whilst living in appalling conditions, they discover the body of another child, murdered near a train station with damage identical to the injuries inflicted on the child murdered in Moscow. This discovery sets them on a race against time to discover who has committed these appalling crimes, only to find they are searching for a serial killer.

I found this book very hard to put down and when reading through the acknowledgements noticed that it is based on an actual event that did take place. The lives of the Russian people during Stalin’s era are shown to be almost unendurable and bereft of joy or peace of any kind. It is well researched and the Stalinist Statistics at the end, appalling. One example: Number of political executions between 1930-1953 – 786,098.

This is a compelling and absorbing story and I will definitely be looking out for more of Tom Rob Smith’s work. Highly recommend.

Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith, is available for purchase at Dymocks


Laraine Fisher

Retired from Monash University, Faculty of Medicine as Personal Assistant to the Faculty Manager and assisted the Dean with Policy documentation (2006). Went back to work part-time in 2008 for Michael Hill Jewellery as an Office Assistant for 3 years and then finished up to work with my husband part-time for a Labour Hire company as an Admin Assistant. Qualified as a Professional Counsellor in 1999 and worked as a counsellor for 12 months before being offered a full-time position at the Faculty of Medicine. Prefer reading : Murder/mystery thrillers with a psychological twist. Also enjoy novels well researched and based on history. My favourite authors are Ken Follett, Kate Atkinson, Peter James, Gillian Flynn, Peter Robinson, Jeffery Deaver, Lynda Le Plante, David Baldacci and Jodi Picoult.

  1. Thank you, Laraine. I’ve read two subsequent titles, Agent 6 and The Secret Speech, both well written and creative. I had intended to get Child 44; your review has acted as a reminder. I’m pleased you enjoyed it. Thank you.

  2. Whether it be communism or fascism, all scary history that we should be aware of and learn lessons from.

  3. I think I will read this book. I like novels with a hint of history. I found what I think will be a good book yesterday. ‘The Beasts Garden’ by Kate Forsyth. It is based on ‘Beauty and the Beast’ but is set in Nazi Germany. It is due to be released soon and can be pre-ordered.

  4. Well, nothing much has changed in Russia! Try being a dissident today and see what happens to you! It is not a democracy.

  5. I read this some time ago and found it chilling . Even more so, the Stalinist conditions listed at the back of the book, e,g,. the minimum age at which a person could be executed by the state , was 12 years !
    And to be suspected of something meant you were arrested, if arrested you were charged , if you were charged you were guilty and sentenced to the Gulags and almost certain death.

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