Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith.
Finally after a drought of good books* here's one I want to rave about.
This was recommended to me by a friend some time ago, I'd downloaded the ebook and it sat there on my eReader, waiting for me to get round to it.
I eventually started it and very nearly abandoned it quite soon after, because since having children I struggle to read (or watch) anything that involves children suffering and as Child 44 has been murdered and left with his mouth stuffed full of what appears to be dirt and his torso cut open, I hesitated to continue.
The scene is 1950's Stalinist Russia, a world of hate and fear, where no-one knows who to trust and people regularly spy on their neighbours and report them to the M.G.B (the state security force). Leo Demidov is a successful officer in the M.G.B, having been a much decorated hero in WW II. His position is such that he and his wife can live in a nice apartment, his parents also have a decent apartment and decent jobs and he can shop in the better shops where not just the basics for life are sold.
A four year old boy (the child of the title) is found dead on the train tracks in Moscow and his parents declare him to have been murdered. The father is a junior colleague of Leo's and he is dispatched to the family home to tell them to stop talking about murder.
And this is the crux of the story. In such Stalinist times murder wasn't believed to exist.
It is not morally possible for Leo to contemplate the idea of someone being murdered. All loyal Soviets must believe that violent crime is a function of capitalist decadence. In a worker’s paradise only political-thought crimes matter. So unguarded children have nothing to fear. The child cannot have been murdered and to say otherwise is to go against the State, which is a crime, a very serious crime.
Leo would probably have put this episode behind him were it not for someone within the M.G.B. plotting his downfall by attemping to set up Leo's wife as a spy, when Leo refuses to denounce his wife Raisa they are shipped off to some far flung part of the Soviet Union, his parents are cast out of their nice apartment and jobs and Leo is demoted to the militia (a much diluted form of a police force, which has very few powers - afterall, in a society where crime doesn't happen why would you need a police force to investigate such non existant crimes?)
The militia that Leo has been sent to are just tidying up a murder case, a young girl had been found with her mouth stuffed full of dirt and partially disemboweled. They are able to label it a murder because they already have a prisoner who has confessed, the fact that he's mentally deficient and would confess to anything isn't an issue to them. At this point Leo has an ephiany, he realises that his life is only going to get worse, that the colleague in the M.G.B. will keep trying to make his life a living hell and he decides he has nothing to lose and sets about investigating the murders.
This is a great read, one that I shan't hesitate to recommend to friends, the ending was a little too trite though, but on the whole I loved it, and if as gossip has it, it gets made into a film then that'll definitely be worth watching.
* I'm not kidding, it seems to me that I've read maybe 3 books in a row that have disappointed me, the last being the so called classic 'the Great Gatsby', there was nothing great about it in my mind, so much so that I couldn't even summon up the enthusiasm to write a review of it - I'll wait until book group and give full vent then!