The opening of Tom Rob Smith’s historical crime thriller, Child 44, is chilling, heartbreaking, and imminently memorable. Never before, or since, have I been moved to tears by a book so quickly—you can’t finish the first chapter and not immediately turn the page.
Not only does it set the scene for a series of brutal murders at the center of the story, it also vividly brings to life the desperate lives and hardships of Stalin’s Soviet Union. It’s a fascinating period and place, and it heightens the stakes for the story’s protagonist, Leo Demidov, an unflinching and high ranking member of the state.
As Demidov realizes that the all-powerful state’s actions are not all that they seem, watching his moral transformation is no less engrossing than the rest of the mystery. (Also, if you listen to the audiobook, Dennis Boutsikaris does a killer job!)
Lukas Fauset’s first career ambition was “detective” but gave up some point after realizing it took a lot more work than putting on a wide-brimmed hat and trench coat. His fallback ambition of “spy” was similarly derailed, but as a Digital Product Developer he, at the very least, still gets to work with code.