06 January 2013

True to Life, Almost

Child 44
Tom Rob Smith

This is the first book I finished this year, a carry-over from the last day of 2012, right after I finish my reread of Howl's Moving Castle and attempts at starting John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. There's nothing wrong with the latter. I just didn't feel like reading a book with a lot of eh, feels. Trolling the internet mostly for the past two years and I got used to the jargon, mainly by going through Doctor Who blogs. Yes, that's another thing I started doing last year - I watched Doctor Who from Matt Smith's incarnation. Sometime soon I'll go back and watch the reboot with Christopher Eccleston and then David Tennant, who's an absolute cutie. A couple of weeks back I trolled YouTube for the First Doctor's appearance. But I'm rambling.

Why I picked this book? I heard that this is a serial killer story from the heydays of the Soviet union, or something to that effect. Way back, I've always adored crime stories, international spy stories, detective stories and the like. As I was used to Western novels, this one intrigued me. It's a story set in Stalin's Soviet Union. Communism as a way of life. How to solve a crime when the State deems that there's no crime to begin with? Oh dear.

The story tells the tale of Leo Demidov, an MGB agent whose faith in the Soviet system was tested when he realized that an alleged spy was really just a veterinarian. Demoted in rank and sent to Voualsk, he realized that that there is indeed a serial killer on the loose. In order to solve the crime and prevent other kids, not to mention so-called tortured, confessing murderers from dying for a crime they didn't commit, he has to learn how to trust others. But in Stalin's Soviet, trust is expensive. Trust can get you and your family killed.

Oh dear, I feel like I'm typing a back-of-the-book blurb.

It's easy to get lost in the pages of the story. It's a different world, indeed. The author gave me a glimpse in the day to day life of an MGB agent torn between the quest for truth and his own survival. Of someone's life falling apart at the seams and trying to stitch it back again.

The murders are gruesome, the killer as methodical and as coldblooded. In this story though, I found myself hating the State officials as well. And the kind of life lived by the people there. I think Leo's wife summed it up:
"I married you because I was scared, scared that if I rejected your advances I'd be arrested, maybe not immediately but at some point, on some pretext. I was young, Leo, and you were powerful. That is the reason we got married. That story you tell about me pretending that my name was Lena? You find that story funny, romantic? I gave you a false name because I was worried you'd track me down. What you took for seduction, I took for surveillance. Our relationship was built out of fear. Maybe not from your point of view - you have no reason to fear me, what power did I have? What power have I ever had? You asked me to marry you and I acquiesced because that's what people do. They put up with things; they tolerate in order to survive...."
It's a cold, scary world out there. And it warms the heart that, in this story at least, love and hope is still abundant. As well as caution. Then again, if you live in Stalin's Soviet, with people reared in fear of the State, being cautious is a good thing. What shocked me in the end is the fact that the serial killer is based on an actual murderer named Andrei Chikatilo, hence, the title of this post.

If you're up for a page-turner, pick this. A serial killer in the dreary, snowy Soviet. Makes me glad I live in a tropical country.


  1. I have this on my tbr from way back but wasn't really aware it was abt a serial killer. Maybe someday but I won't rush out to read this one yet.

  2. There are plenty of books on my TBR pile but this engaged me more than the others. Oh dear, I hope that doesn't say anything about me enjoying serial killer stories :)



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