CHILD 44 by Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central), 448 pages, $28.99 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Tom Rob Smith's Child 44 has been compared to Gorky Park and 1984. But reading just a few pages of the British novelist's unputdownable debut thriller convinces you that his voice is totally his own.
It's 1953, and Leo Demidov is a rising star in Russia's State Security force. He knows how to twist confessions from suspected dissidents and enjoys a charmed life. But when a colleague attempts to sabotage him, he and his wife, Raisa, come under suspicion. Matters get worse when he begins prying into a series of brutal child murders that the government would rather ignore.
Smith, a noted screenwriter, has a great eye and energetic sense of pace. He recreates a sinister but believable world where friends, co-workers and even spouses can't be trusted.
But for all the story's page-turning suspense, there's also room for lots of psychological probing into a dying marriage resuscitated and a corrupt man discovering he has a conscience.