Shock Therapy

Historians of modern Russia know that shock therapy refers to the volatile economic reforms instituted by Boris Yeltsin in the late 90s, after the break up of the Soviet Union.  Forty years prior Nikita Khrushchev delivered a speech to the 20th Soviet Congress detailing the atrocities committed by the cult of Stalin (thus distancing himself from complicity). The so-called “secret speech” went viral long before the advent of social networking, shaking the Soviet Union to its foundations. This tumultuous time provides the backdrop for Tom Rob Smith’s new historical thriller, The Secret Speech, which is ultimately about a dysfunctional family undergoing its own self-imposed version of shock therapy.

Leo Demidov, the persecutor-turned-protector from Smith’s first novel Child 44 (see review posted 6/17/08), returns in the role of surrogate father to a pair of orphaned girls. Leo was responsible for the deaths of their parents and taking them in is his act of redemption, but the girls know about his actions and they aren’t about to forgive him. A new nemesis emerges, one with an intimate knowledge of his past deeds who is intent on retribution also.

Smith handles the personal and political elements of the story very well, and this thriller delivers its share of plot twists and page turns. The enemy from the past bent on revenge feels like something out of Batman and reminded me of the line “Some men just want to watch the world burn” from “The Dark Knight.”  The uprising in Budapest was a compelling addition to the story, but it wasn’t given full attention as the novel raced to its conclusion. A unique thriller about a flawed hero attempting to rescue a flawed family at a time when a self-proclaimed utopia admitted that it too had fatal flaws.


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