Book Review: Child 44

The introduction is set in the 1933 Ukrainian village of Chervoy during a time of horrible famine that finds residents trapping and eating rodents, cooking their leather boots and picking through horse manure in search of a few pieces of grain. In such times, death comes stalking in many forms, some more evil then others so the villagers take little notice when a boy disappears. The story picks up twenty years later in Moscow when the body of a four-year-old boy is discovered on the train tracks, his mouth stuffed with dirt. Although the boyís father Fyodor Andreev insists he was murdered, the idealistic MGB State Security Force member and war hero Leo Demidov was directed to quiet the dadís unfounded rumors of a child killer. As Leo tracks down assorted enemies of the state, Smith develops the paranoia, fear and resulting jealousies that existed during a time when turning in your neighbors or family was a way of currying favor. Leo discovers how precarious his own relatively cushy situation is when an underling continues his personal vendetta against the him and an event close to home forces him to question everything he thought he knew.

This thriller is more about the political atmosphere and prevailing feeling of helplessness/hopelessness of the time then a murder mystery. The underlying thread of a serial killer serves more as a background theme then the main plot that examines what life was like at a time when forced confessions were the norm and shooting children for their fatherís crimes was an accepted practice. Filled with graphic depictions of violence, this is an edgy, uncomfortable and compelling read. The parallels between Chikatilo, the Russian man who murdered, maimed and ate parts of his victims and the serial killer in this tale are difficult to miss. Overall, this is a first-rate debut novel that explores a difficult period in Soviet history. 

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