It’s 1953 in the Soviet Union, Leo Demidov is a loyal member of the State, and an agent for the Ministry for State Security. He is a decorated war hero and a true believer in the ideologies of the Communist Party. In exchange for the essentials of security, rations, shelter, and comfort, Leo puts his personal feelings and morals when performing his duties for the State. Leo is often sent on missions to take care of those suspected of treason. It is not until children begin turning up dead, that Leo begins to realize that maybe the State isn’t always right. The final straw, one could say, was when Leo is asked to arrest a man he knows is innocent, as well as being asked to arrest his own wife, Raisa. Leo, who isn’t sure what he is supposed to do, flees with his wife and becomes an enemy of the State, rather than do what he is asked.
While on the run, Leo realizes that he can not ignore his conscience any longer and that there is a child murderer is on the loose. To make matters worse, the government either can not, or will not admit that there is even a problem with this scenario. Though the children are all found with identical carvings on their bodies, the State attempts to make their deaths appear completely coincidental. Leo begins to investigate the child murders while trying to avoid being captured by the very men he used to command. As he pieces together the clues surrounding the murders, he discovers that the killer is closer than anyone would have thought.
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith has all the makings of what could and should have been a good book. It is loosely based on a real life Russian serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo’s exploits, moved back in time to be set in Stalin era Russia. That alone could have made it a great book, but, unfortunately, it just added to the muddle that was the story.
Alas, it just didn’t live up to the glowing reviews emblazoned on its cover. It was a struggle for the reviewer to finish this novel, so much so that it took about three weeks to actually finish reading the story.
The characters were not the problem, they were interesting enough. The plot was one that could have been great. All in all, however, this book had the complexity level of what one would expect from an episode of Law and Order: Russian Security, if there was such a show. It was completely predictable, and at 448 pages, the book was about 250 pages more than the story, as written, really allowed for.
The writing is not engaging at all. The story just felt flat and uninspired. Overall, the reviewer would have a hard time suggesting this book to read, but is willing to concede that perhaps it just was not her personal cup of tea, so to speak, writing wise.
In addition to serving as an associate librarian with the Howard County Library, Nicole Tracy has years of experience in literary fields. She writes an exclusive weekly column for The Nashville News.