Smith offers a look into the Soviet Union of 1953, a dark, desperate place in which the state had become a manifestation of Stalin’s paranoia. The ideological need of the state to present the communist ideal as an actualized reality impaired its ability, its willingness to address bad things when they happened, for surely, in this workers’ paradise, such things would never happen. Things like serial killers, things like crime of any sort. Thus all crime is ideological and all criminals are enemies of the state. This is not a family trip to DisneyWorld.
Leo is a member of the MGB, state security, and has spent his adult life doing what he has been told to do, doing what is expected, whether it is drinking the ideological Kool-Aid or rousting suspected traitors at 4 in the morning for a nifty round of torture before they are disappeared. Life is ok for him, professionally respected, married to a beautiful woman, able to access for his family goods and services not available to the less connected in this classless society. But when a child is found murdered in Moscow, the child of a fellow MGB officer, and when he treats this crime the way he would any other, he is redirected from his safe path to a dangerous route, pushed along by a jealous work competitor.
The big secret in Smith’s tale is not that tough to figure out, but the up-side of this fast-paced thriller is the depiction of a stalag-Soviet. The characters are sometimes thin, but Child 44 does not pretend to be classic literature. Leo changes, as do some around him and we get a roller-coaster ride through a scary, dark place, learning things we might not have known about an important time and place. An entertaining and gripping read..