Hailed as a great debut novel, and nominated for numerous awards, for which it won the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller of the Year for 2008, as well as being on the long list for the 2008 Booker prize, Child 44 is a thriller like no other. Combining a murder mystery amongst the backdrop of Soviet Russia, Smith's book is both intriguing and frightening.
This book was recommended by a few people, including my sister, who claimed the book took off from the first page. She wasn't lying. The story takes off literally from the first page, and that is always a promising start to any novel. While the story was always interesting and detailed, I personally don't think it picked up in "oh my goodness what the heck happens next??!" intensity until about halfway into the book, maybe a little before that. It's not that its boring, but maybe there was just a little too much setting up of the scene, so to speak, that I was kinda like, ok lets get on with it. Once it picked up, it REALLY picked up, and the last 10 or so chapters flew by so quickly that before I knew it I was done with the book.
One complaint I've heard is that the book fizzles at the end. I have to disagree, I think that the ending was fine, maybe predictable, but fine nonetheless. Perhaps its also due to the fact that I knew a sequel was out (The Secret Speech), so any questions or qualms I might have had were not there; had I not known about the sequel they might have been.
Besides the crime story (because it is a murder mystery case/story), I think the real gem of the story is the detailed look into Soviet Russia. Its appalling at the level of paranoia and survival the citizens had to live through each and every single day. The psychological elements of Soviet Russian existence was tremendously intriguing.
Overall the story is very good, I like the author's prose, his voice, his pacing. I love how he can tell the story from different perspectives; even in the same scene with two characters, we get to hear what each is thinking and feeling. It shows the depths of human character and how everyone interprets things differently. It played beautifully into Smith's underlying theme of psychology in Soviet Russia.
Oh, and it doesn't hurt that the murder story is based off of a real person and case: Andrei Chikatilo, aka The Rostov Ripper. Although Smith's rendition of the story is less intense than reality, its nonetheless a creative one that will leave readers shocked at its depth and simplicity.