I think there have been books I rated highly because the audiobook had a wonderful narrator. However, this is not one of those cases. I hated the narration for this book and it might affect how I feel about it, but I’m still going to say this wasn’t in a genre I typically enjoy anyway and I might have disliked it with a good narrator or reading the physical book.
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Summary from Goodreads:
Stalin’s Soviet Union is an official paradise, where citizens live free from crime and fear only one thing: the all-powerful state. Defending this system is idealistic security officer Leo Demidov, a war hero who believes in the iron fist of the law, but when a murderer starts to kill at will and Leo dares to investigate, the State’s obedient servant finds himself demoted and exiled. Now, with only his wife at his side, Leo must fight to uncover shocking truths about a killer–and a country where “crime” doesn’t exist.
There were too many times in this book where I had to suspend my disbelief and it became too much for me. The first was early on when there was a ‘truth oil’ that was injected into prisoners. It sounded straight out of Harry Potter. Then we had a drug-addicted police officer who never took drugs again through the rest of the novel. I was poised to not like it from the beginning. My book club has met since and argues that these two things are real and could happen, but I still thought it was too much and I had already given up from there. I’ll say that everything wrapped up nicely and it was well plotted to be sure, but I gave up on it by the second prologue (you only get one!).
The characters were really well done. Most of them had more than one layer to them which made reading farther into the book really fun. I hated Vasili, but that doesn’t mean he was a bad character. Leo probably changed the most. His belief in the state was almost unbelievable at the beginning and it was interesting to see that break and how it developed. It felt like the was the only ‘true’ Soviet left for a lot of the novel.
I think Raisa was easily my favorite and she changed the most through the book. I wish she’d been a stronger female character, but I admired her dedication and love for her husband. I thought Smith worked in well that she was afraid of Leo and that her actions weren’t those of a loving wife early on so that when she admitted that she didn’t love him, all the points she drew upon, wich fro Leo’s perspective were minor and not worthy of note, they seemed harsh. She was well written in.
The story wasn’t something I could relate to, but I did sympathize with some of the characters in other ways. I felt that Leo was like myself, very practical and trusting. Many times, I could anticipate what he would do before he did it. He was fiercely loyal to his wife and family and I admired that. I admired his determination to solve the case.
I thought the train escape was great. It was really innovative and the characters were lucky, but it came at a cost to them. They had to kill, maim, and fight tooth and nail (ha!) to escape and I could see it happening. It was also a turning point for Leo because he realized the average person didn’t like the state either. They were willing to keep quiet and risk death to let Leo and Raisa escape. I thought the tooth part was a bit much and it made me gag, but it was still well done.
I can’t say I had a single least favorite part of the book, but there were a lot of coincidences I thought were too perfect and times when I wanted Leo and Raisa to have the smallest win and the book just tore them down. No description of the killer from the eyewitness was a rough one to read. There were some other parts when I thought things were too perfect, like getting to the company records so easily or their fake papers being overlooked. Small things that should have derailed it completely. I also didn’t understand why Leo was so determined to find the killer. I didn’t get his vested interest in the case. He had no children to protect and wasn’t close to any of the victims. Why was he so driven?
The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris. To be honest, it was terrible. He read the narrative in his normal voice, but every character was given a Russian accent that grated on me. He wasn’t able to differentiate the voices of the characters as well as I think he could have done without the accent and it seemed completely unnecessary to me. I would have liked it better read to me straight and I think the reading is one of the biggest reasons I couldn’t stand the book.
Loyalty was the biggest theme I got out of this book. Leo was loyal to the state, the only character who was. Vasili and Raisa are loyal only to themselves. But for Leo and Raisa, this changes as the book goes on. He loses his loyalty to the state and he and Raisa become loyal to each other. Other characters have their own loyalties but sticking to those loyalties seems the only way to survive in Soviet Russia.
Writer’s Takeaway: Smith did a great job of connecting all the loose ends of his plot. I was getting angry toward the end when the prologue didn’t seem to be connecting to the rest of the story. There were small things like Raisa’s relationship with Ivan that I wanted to connect and why Child 44 was important enough to make the title. Smith did a great job bringing these things together and it shows that he is a great editor of his own work to be able to do this. Kudos.
Overall, not my cup of tea and I doubt I’ll continue with the rest of the series. Two out of Five stars.
Until next time, write on.