Archive for Tom Rob Smith

Agent 6

Posted in Fiction, New release with tags , , , on March 14, 2012 by jaclemens

Who is Agent 6?” is billed as the mystery at the center of this last installment of the Leo Demidov series, but the true mystery is how do you make a KGB agent both believable and likeable? The two traits would strike most as mutually exclusive in a member of a secret police force. How can a person do such despicable deeds, be it out of dedication to an ideal, a means of survival, or animal cruelty, and yet present a sympathetic character? That is what Tom Rob Smith has accomplished in this series that began with Child 44 and concludes with Agent 6. It’s a series of spy thrillers featuring a spy from the other side. He doesn’t fight for us, and yet we are in his corner. His own people cower in fear of him, but we urge him on in his quest. This does not reveal a flaw in our character; it shows the true strength of Leo’s.

The flaw that makes a recurring appearance is the disjointed timeline, with a section that pre-dates Child 44, a section that follows after The Secret Speech, and a final section set 15 years beyond that. The spread of the timeline should encompass more than the three books in the series, rather than fitting the constraints of the final book. Each segment is of interest, from Leo and Raisa’s compulsory courtship, to the introduction of the Paul Robeson-esque socialist singer Jesse Austin, to the American agents who act to foil and as foil for Leo, to the time spent wasting away in Afghanistan. It all warrants inclusion, but in a longer and better developed series. I’m a poor judge of thrillers, but I find the characters compelling enough to say they deserve more scenes before this series comes to its inevitable conclusion.


Shock Therapy

Posted in Fiction, New release with tags , on December 18, 2009 by jaclemens

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.

Child 44 review

Posted in reviews with tags , on June 17, 2008 by jaclemens

I’m not typically drawn to thrillers, with their implausible twists and too convenient coincidences, but Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith has something going for it besides publicity: it’s set in Stalin’s Soviet Union. As an American author who has studied Russian and plans to write a novel about the siege of Stalingrad, I was curious to see how Smith, a British screenwriter close to my age, handled a story with a similar setting. Loosely based on the actual serial killings committed by Andrei Chikatilo, Child 44 reads like a punch to the gut. It begins with the inhumane conditions inflicted by the famine that ravaged Ukraine, the Soviet Union’s bread basket, in the 1930’s, and doesn’t let up from there. This is a relentless book. The climate is relentless, the system is relentless, the killer and his pursuer are relentless, as is the pursuit of the pursuer, a man who becomes a target of the state security force he once served. Smith’s depictions of the treatment of the victims of the system and the victims of the murderer are also relentless. As I read I was waiting for Smith to address Stalin’s death in March, 1953, and he did not disappoint in that aspect, but I did find his occasional use of Russian words in the text to be a distraction rather than an addition. True to the thriller form, this book does have its coincidences which allow for a tidy finish to the story, but it is a satisfying conclusion nonetheless. I recommend reading the book before the Ridley Scott film comes out!