Monday, June 08, 2009

Chilling Tale

Decorated hero Leo Demidov goes about his normal routine as a KGB officer in Stalinist Russia - arresting suspects and terrorising the populace in the snowy wastes north of Moscow. At the same time he watches his back because his deputy hates him and will stop at nothing to discredit him.

Asked to investigate his schoolteacher wife, who is suspected of spying for the West, Leo begins to have doubts about the regime. When he stumbles upon evidence that points to a serial killer of children on the loose, he decides to investigate. The only drawback is such crimes aren't recognised by the state; to believe otherwise is a crime against the state itself, punishable by death.

Child 44 is a remarkable debut thriller by Tom Rob Smith, based on the real-life case of a man who committed 50 murders before he was caught but re-crafted into a story that investigates the mind-set of the main protagonist as his search reveals as much about his own past as it does the motivation for the killings.

The story grips from the first page, when a woman dying of hunger releases a cat into the snowy forest, hoping it will survive when all other animals have long disappeared. The cat is stalked by a child, in turn stalked by a man carrying a sack and a cudgel...

'You should wear gloves when you hold that', advised R, after I read out a couple of chilly extracts.

Surviving in extreme situations, the nature of marriage, cold-war politics and the psychology of serial killers are just a few of the issues that make this a good reading group choice. It's the quality and intensity of the writing, though, that keeps you reading.

Child 44 taster:

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