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In his debut novel Smith has painted a bleak picture of Stalin's Russia where blind faith in the State, or pretence of it, is the norm. Across the disparate parts of this story people's actions and decisions are fuelled by paranoia, desperation and vengeance. Many people abuse whatever power they have and many others live in constant fear of that abuse. The few acts motivated by love, friendship or hope are memorable for their rarity. In some ways this is a familiar picture of Russia during this era but I thought Smith did a better job than many writers in demonstrating the subtle differences in people's behaviour and exploring the reasons behind that behaviour rather than portraying everyone in as stereotypical good and evil as is often the case.
Few of the characters are likable however understandable their actions may be. But they're very credible in the context of the world Smith has depicted. The writing is breathtaking in the way it depicts scenes so vividly that you're transported to the places where action takes place and can feel the emotions of those involved. My main criticism of an otherwise terrific book is that in the last third the plot moved from credible to 'Hollywood' with the number of in-the-nick-of-time escapes and coincidences used to get to the ending.
It's an evocative portrayal of a time and place that's been demonised many times in literature and movies but rarely explored in such a thoughtful and thought-provoking way.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?
The story felt like it relied on a lot of old soviet cliches, the crime story took 7 hours to get going and was a bit fanciful.
Would you ever listen to anything by Tom Rob Smith again?
I doubt it.
Would you listen to another book narrated by Steven Pacey?
He didn't add or subtract from the story.
If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Child 44?
it was very long for a thin story line. A few decent twists but nothing particularly interesting or not telegraphed.
Any additional comments?
I finished the book but only pushed on to finish it so I could get back to the Harry Bosch series
Would you consider the audio edition of Child 44 to be better than the print version?
I haven't read the print version so its difficult to comment, what I would say is that I enjoyed it. In audio terms it was a page turner and in contrast to 'weightier' books I came away feeling as though I'd actually 'read' it, there was a keener sense of participation.
What other book might you compare Child 44 to, and why?
It was unique from my perspective anyway (I'm sure there are comparable stories) in it's combining of historical setting, which was evocative, and serial killer story line which was faintly cheesy and not up to Hannibal Lecter/Tom Ripley standards but then it was more traditional in its outlook.
Which character – as performed by Steven Pacey – was your favourite?
Leo was my favourite because he is the most present I suppose, all the action is channeled through him.
Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
No but I did feel slightly chilly some mornings when I was listening to it while trudging to work.
Any additional comments?
It was pretty good. The idea for the setting was strong but the story line itself was maybe a bit silly, I wasn't that scared of bumping into the killer. The character forming stuff was a bit a bit clunky; character A is like this because of *insert traumatic childhood event. Also I'm not sure about the need for the reader to put on the Russian accent when the characters are speaking, its vaguely meerket-esque but that in itself is a really difficult decision for the director who wants the listener to identify the characters as Russian which they are, but they're clearly not speaking Russian, they're speaking English because the book is written in English.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
The book is one of the best I have purchased from audible.It portrays the life in Russia under Stalin and the fear of reprisals.
Leo's world is turned upside down from being an avid supporter of the state system he then experience's the Horrors of being an enemy of the state.
Does one have sympathy for Leo's fate or do you try to think you are suffering the same fate of many other People he has sent of to the Gulags.
The brutality and fear portrayed in the book are tools of the state to ensure obedience.
20 million people entered the gulag system under Stalin.
Man is wolf to man
20 of 23 people found this review helpful
A very good read, lots of twists and turns. Great sense of place historically. Loved the characters very engaging.
This book was superb. All too often today Russia is criticized without mercy. However the atrocities that occurred in Russia some 25 years ago should not be overlooked. Although slow to start, it's well worth the wait. A great insight truly.