Tom Rob Smith

Child 44

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Child 44 Summary

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British author Tom Rob Smith’s debut Child 44 (2008) is a suspense novel set in the Cold War-era. It is the first in a trilogy, followed by The Secret Speech (2009) and Agent 6 (2011). A former Ministry of State Security official Leo Demidov investigates a series of horrific child murders in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, only to be stonewalled by Soviet bureaucracy as he discovers that some very powerful people may not want the truth about these killings to come out. Exploring themes such as the potential of men for evil, the threats to truth in repressive regimes, and the paranoia of the culture, as well as dealing with homosexuality and the mental health system in the USSR, Child 44 was heavily inspired by the crimes of Soviet-era serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, better known as the Red Ripper. Translated into thirty-six languages, the novel was critically acclaimed and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, as well as receiving the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award and the Galaxy Book Award for Best New Writer. In 2015, Child 44 was adapted into a major motion picture directed by Daniel Espinosa and starring Tom Hardy as Leo Demidov.

As Child 44 begins, MGB agent Leo Demidov has been given the task to cover up a local murder. A fellow agent in the Soviet secret police is trying to get the attention of the authorities, claiming that his son was murdered. However, under Joseph Stalin, official government policy is that there are no murders in the Soviet Union, and as such, the grieving father must be convinced to keep quiet. Leo is annoyed with this new assignment, especially when it causes one of his targets to get away—Anatoly Brodsky, a veterinarian whom Leo has been monitoring for signs of espionage.

After a manhunt that ends with the deaths of two of Brodsky’s accomplices, Leo manages to track down Brodsky and interrogates him. He is shocked when it becomes clear that Brodsky is innocent. Shaken by the fact that his instincts were wrong, he takes sick leave for several days. When he returns, he learns that Brodsky confessed and was quickly executed. More shockingly, Brodsky named Leo’s wife, Raisa, as his accomplice. Leo protests his wife’s innocence, and he is quickly fired from the MSB. Disgraced, he is sent to the local militia in Voualsk. There, he meets General Nesterov, who is investigating a similar murder to the one in Moscow.

Investigating on their own, Leo and Raisa find that this murder is not isolated. Knowing that there is a serial killer on the loose, Nesterov begins a hunt for local gay men to use as scapegoats. Leo angrily confronts him and demands Nesterov allow him to conduct a legitimate investigation.

The parties agree to split up and investigate on their own. Nesterov heads south and learns that most of the murders are taking place on the border with Ukraine, and there are far more murders than anyone thought. Leo and Raisa covertly head back to Moscow to investigate there, but they are quickly arrested when the MGB learns of their return. Wanting to silence the idea that there are murders going on, they decide to arrest the investigators before their findings can be made public. They are slated for execution, but they make a daring escape from the police station and head to the border, where they are able to track down the killer before he strikes again.

The killer is unmasked as Andrei—Leo’s long-lost brother. Leo was kidnapped as a child and raised away from his family, so he never really knew Andrei, who grew up to be a sociopathic murderer. Leo confronts Andrei and arrests him, but is hesitant to kill his brother. However, he knows he cannot turn him over to the authorities because they will both be killed. Leo’s former Lieutenant in the MGB tracks them down and attempts to kill them all, but Andrei helps dispatch him and saves Leo’s life. Still, Leo and Raisa decide that there is no way they can keep Andrei alive and be sure he will not kill again, so Raisa helps Leo pull the trigger on his murderous brother. They return to Moscow, able to close the case and guarantee there will not be any new murders. Leo is reinstated in the MGB and given control of a new homicide division in the central Moscow office. He and Raisa decide to adopt the orphaned daughters of Brodsky’s accomplices.

Tom Rob Smith is a British author and scriptwriter. He previously worked with the BBC and worked on their first production in Cambodia before writing his first novel. In addition to the trilogy Child 44, The Secret Speech, and Agent 6, he is the author of the 2014 novel The Farm, which was inspired by his own experiences dealing with his mother’s mental illness. He is also the writer of the BBC Two television drama London Spy.