Thursday, 1 December 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - The Secret Speech


Tom Rob Smith's debut Child 44 garnered lots of critical praise for the author and managed that trick of appealing to both the literary (it made the Booker long list as that year's usual token nod to crime fiction) and the mass market thriller fans. It centred on the search for a serial killer of children in Stalin's Russia where there is no such thing as murder. Leo Demidoc ,KGB officer, was therefore stuck investigating crimes that, in terms of the party, officially didn't exist. Reviews likened it to Gorky Park.

The book however was much more than an edge of your seat thriller (although it was also a really good edge of your seat thriller) with themes of betrayal and loyalty combined with a knowledge and detail in the writing that painted a convincing social history of the USSR at this time.

The follow up picks up with Leo and his family again after the death of Stalin and the consequences of Khrushchev's recognition of the state's crimes and pledges of reform (the secret speech of the title).

The plot revolves around Leo and his family being targeted as a result of a betrayal Leo had carried out when acting undercover 7years earlier. The action shifts from Moscow to the Siberian prison camps before finally ending up in Hungary to witness the crushing of rebellion.

Reading other reviews this sequel seems to divide opinion. For some it maintains Child 44's thrill of climax after climax bringing to life a lost and hidden time. For others the plot stumbles from one messy scene to another until it ends up in the realms of hollywood fantasy.

For me the book lies somewhere in the middle. The set pieces are thrilling and the whole book moves along, as did Child 44, at a break neck pace. However unlike Child 44, increasingly as the book progresses a sense of reality goes out of the window and I found myself thinking "hang on a minute". The nuances of the first book have been replaced with a bit more of wham bam approach (can see the film adaptation already in my head)

Overall a bit of a disappointment but still enough there to make me want to know what happens in the final part of the trilogy and hope the heights of Child 44 are reached again

you can buy the Secret Speech here (although I'd go for Child 44 every time)

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