“Child 44” (published in 2008) is a thriller novel by British writer Tom Rob Smith. This is the first novel in a trilogy featuring former MGB Agent Leo Demidov, who investigates a series of gruesome child murders in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. “Child 44”, the first in a trilogy, is based on the crimes of Andrei Chikatilo, also known as the Rostov Ripper, the Butcher of Rostov, and the Red Ripper, who was convicted of and executed for 52 murders in the Soviet Union. In addition to highlighting the problem of Soviet-era criminality in a state where “there is no crime”, the novel explores the paranoia of the age, the education system, the secret police apparatus, orphanages, homosexuality in the USSR, and mental hospitals. (via Wikipedia)

Stalin’s Soviet Union in 1953 is an official paradise, where citizens live free from crime and fear only one thing: the all-powerful state. When war hero Leo Stepanovich Demidov, a rising star in the MGB, the State Security force, is assigned to look into the death of a child, Leo is annoyed, first because this takes him away from a more important case, but, more importantly, because the parents insist the child was murdered. In Stalinist Russia, there’s no such thing as murder; the only criminals are those who are enemies of the state. After attempting to curb the violent excesses of his second-in-command, Leo is forced to investigate his own wife, the beautiful Raisa, who’s suspected of being an Anglo-American sympathizer. Demoted and exiled from Moscow, Leo stumbles onto more evidence of the child killer…

Crime is not really my genre, but I felt compelled to read “Child 44” due to the setting in Stalin´s Soviet Union. A truly fascinating and shocking time period at the same time. Smith has managed to create the atmosphere of paranoia and paralysing fear controlling the country and its inhabitants and the idea of putting a demoted and former MGB agent in the lead of this serial killer investigation and manhunt is a good plot. But, compared to The Guardian who said “the story is exciting, but the characters and dialogue are underdeveloped, and the prose studiously bland”, I think the story is not that exciting to be honest and this brick of a book ends up as just an average and ordinary crime thriller in my eyes. A shame as the foundation is pretty good.

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