"A library doesn't need windows. A library is a window." – Stewart Brand

May 30, 2010

Read Something! -- _Child 44_ (Tom Rob Smith)

Child 44

439 pp.
Historical Thriller / Suspense
Sequel: The Secret Speech


Leo Demidov is an investigator for Stalinist Russia's State Security Force. Idealistic and loyal to the state, he has always performed his job well. But a botched case, a scheming underling, and doubts about the system he's always worked within put Leo's family, career, and life in jeopardy.

Exiled and demoted, Leo discovers a series of murdered children who begin to form a disturbing pattern. In Soviet Russia, crime is officially nonexistent. But Leo knows he is on the trail of a serial killer. He and his wife must work against time and the State to find the murderer before he strikes again. And as they get closer to the killer, they approach a revelation about Leo's past that will change the face of the case entirely.

Appeal characteristics
  • Characterization: Plot-focused book; character development does occur over the course of the story but typically happens for plot purposes
  • Characterization: Characters' motivations and internal states are generally not explored beyond the superficial
  • Characterization: Some minor characters, but they largely matter only for their relation to Leo or the case
  • Frame: An atmospheric book that strongly evokes the feeling of living in a totalitarian society
  • Frame?: Explores questions of morality and ethics -- what is worth doing in the name of the greater good? What if you begin to doubt that the greater good is truly good?
  • Pacing: Fast-paced plot -- something big happens in each chapter
  • Pacing: The magnitude (significance, dangerousness, ...) of events increases swiftly toward the end of the book, along with the pace
  • Plot: No substantial subplots
  • Plot: Happy ending
  • Plot?: Possibility of a sequel is left open (though there are not substantial loose ends)

Other notes
  • There are some disturbing scenes, including moderately explicit torture and murder.
  • Plausibility is somewhat sacrificed to the needs of suspense and thrill in later chapters (especially the twist regarding Leo's identity); readers who have trouble suspending their disbelief may take issue with the last quarter to third of the book. (The storytelling is quite compelling, however, and may enable readers to gloss over the improbabilities while they are still reading.)
  • My Noting: Books entry on Child 44: http://notingbooks.com/users/hbackman/readings/5621-Child-44
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell): similar strongly evoked atmosphere of repression and totalitarianism, with a few characters who dare to covertly or semi-covertly resist an oppressive government; similar plot arcs in terms of how the main character develops (from agreement/collaboration to uncertainty to disagreement to arrest to release...)?; Nineteen Eighty-Four does not have a happy ending and is generally much more hopeless in tone
  • Further reading listed at the end of Child 44 in an appendix -- these books are nonfiction, used by the author for research, and provide a further window into the time period and subjects covered in the novel for those who are interested in learning more
  • Eye of the Red Tsar (Sam Eastland): similar subject matter (disgraced investigator in Stalinist Russia investigating cases that have been or are being shrouded in secrecy by the state), similar concern with the main character's past; however, all other elements of style and tone are very different -- Eye does not concern itself with the repressive atmosphere or with the ethics of working for the Soviet state, is much more interested in the characters than in the case they're solving, emphasizes its main character's past much more than Child 44 (in Eye it is integrated through the story rather than a twist), is (frankly) better written stylistically (author has a better grasp of language, imagery, style that flows instead of jerks along)
  • [ETA 7/27/10] John Grisham books? I have not read any Grisham but the Novelist description of his appeal suggests similar interest in ethical conflicts, similarly idealistic characters wrestling with whether they should go against the system, similar fast pace. Grisham notably does not have explicit sex and violence; the more disturbing elements of this book might present a barrier to enjoyment for some Grisham fans.