Child 44–there’s something fishy afoot
When reading Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44, I was reminded of something. I couldn’t think what it was when I was reading it, but later I realised: I was reminded of Robert Harris’ Fatherland. Granted, one was in Germany and one in Soviet Russia in the Cold War, but there were striking similarities. The main characters are good guys in a bad world, they live in authoritarian dictatorial nations, but don’t worry, they’re both good guys (that was sarcastic if it didn’t carry). Smith’s first novel reads exactly like Harris, and I’m not convinced if that’s a good thing.
Leo Demidov is a hero in the Soviet Union from World War II, his handsome image was an iconic picture used by state media. Now, he works in the Secret Service, the MGB (the Russian equivalent of MI5, or the FBI), until he becomes disillusioned. He decides to go against the party line-not only the party line, but the press line, and one which can not be allowed to change-there is no murder in the country, murder is a capitalist disease. This means a serial killer is an impossibility, people who state that will not last long. Will Leo toe the party line in order to stay alive, or risk everything to expose a massive cover up?
You see, Smith’s writing is not identical to Harris’. If it was, I would be singing the praises of Child 44, which is released at cinemas today. Harris pulls of the ‘good guy in a bad world’ cliché superbly, but Smith’s debut is (though of a length Harris would approve of), not of the quality of Harris. Perhaps he will improve, and find his own style with time? It was a book with potential, but that potential was not fulfilled I’m sad to say. And while we’re on the topic of clichés (here be mild spoilers), the fact that Leo’s wife states that she doesn’t love him in a confrontation, only to fall in love with him as the book progresses is far, far too idealistic. This is supposed to be a gritty thriller, not a romance book. I’m not saying I don’t want any of that lovey dovey nonsense, I’m all for a bit of lovey dovey-but I prefer when it is kept the right side of realistic.
The level of enjoyment I received from the book was inversely proportional to the page number: as I got further through, the plot got both more predictable and more absurd. The last major plot twist was both predictable and clichéd (and as far as I can fathom, not based on fact, the killer however is based on fact). It was unlikely to occur in a book that (probably) prides itself on its historical accuracy and realism, and was dull in that it was entirely obvious from the start where it was going.
I’m all for a bit of lovey dovey
Having said that, the beginning was very readable, the government stooge, whilst a common character was actually pulled off very well for the majority of the novel, he was realistic and somewhat gritty. The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for the supporting characters. Practically all lack depth (another spoiler? What is it coming to?), both his wife and his rival are shallow and underdeveloped, often combined with poor reasons for their actions other than to help move the plot along.
Does the film have promise? Well, it looks like your run of the mill action film from the advert, and I doubt it will be similar to North Korea in that millions will watch it out of spite-despite the Russians banning it. Complete with the Hogwarts Express and English speaking Russians, lots of fighting, and death. Did I mention it’s about a serial killer? Who has killed 42 times? It looks to me like one to pass the time with if you have nothing to do, rather than a proper classic film, but that’s just my judgement from the trailer (below).
Apologies to those who clicked on the title expecting some deep philosophical piece on the utilisation of the word ‘fatherland’, and its evolution to new connotations in this digital age. That piece will be coming out next week. (I’m in a sarky mood at the minute.) And while I’m apologising, sorry for missing the Flash Fiction Foray on Monday, it will continue as normal from Monday.
Since Maria had decided to die, her cat would have to fend for itself.
Character development-good for main character, motivations of other characters are murky at best- ★★½
Readability-the area the book excels in, a brilliant page turner even if a little predictable at (major) times-★★★★½
Overall-it read like a tribute to Robert Harris which had attempted to imitate his style, but not quite pulled it off. It was fabulously readable, but predictable, it did its job as a thriller, and lastly, it looks better than the film by a long way (though that’s not saying much)- ★★★★ (77)