Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith is a remarkable story, all the more impressive for its knowledgeable backdrop of Soviet life and ideology.
In essence: Child 44
Child 44 follows the trail forged by a policeman whose job is initially to deny that children are being murdered at all. He slowly comes to realise that the victims’ families are right; murder is the name of the tale, serial at that, but it has not the aim he expects.
On the surface, it is classic maverick-policeman-investigates-without-permission, but the historical background is unshakeable. It permeates every layer of the story. Subplots such as the circumstances under which the policeman married his wife; the story of his childhood; the ‘vacation’ he takes, are all continually singed with the smoke and mirrors of an era filled with terror, suspicion, and twisted social policies.
The murders continue because the government wouldn’t admit to the possibility that a true Soviet citizen would murder someone; they offered terrifyingly illogical explanations for murders and mutilations. They suggested the deaths to be the doing of so-called deviants, the mentally disabled, or homosexuals.
The tale follows the policeman as he chases his killer into a superb climax that was worth reading for. I read the whole final third of the tale in one sitting; a feat for me these days, but this book was unputdownable; the suspense was breathtaking.
The novel backdrop
Child 44 is based loosely on the life and serial murders of a certain Andrei Chikatilo, also known as the Rostov Ripper, and the Butcher of Rostov. His vile and brutal mutilations of 56 women and children were the actions of an impotent, frustrated man, and recognisable features of Chikatilo and his life appear in Smith’s killer.
The detail of Soviet-era life, from the Ukraine famine in the 1930s, to Krushchev’s 1950s, is sewn into Child 44 with intricate stitches; it could be too much for some; I wrapped myself in it and let the whole thing envelop me.
Will you like it?
If you want a book that has a rip-roaring story, but the feeling of reading Actual Literature, Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith is the one. If you don’t like too many words, its 407 pages may be a bit overwhelming.
As far as I can tell, Child 44 is available only in DRM formats, if you find a DRM-free bookseller that carries it, please comment below!