How do you catch a murderer that doesn't exist? The deaths are there, the families claim ti is murder, but it's not a murder. Accidents. Wolves. Whatever. Your government, your employer, does not recognize these acts as murders. There is no murder. Stop investigating or we'll throw you in a prison camp. That is the conundrum that Leo Demidov faces as a lowly cop in Soviet Russia. It's also incredibly engaing as you have a chase within a chase within a prison.
If you've read my blogs, you will know I respect Russians, love the interesting blend of East + West inherent in Russian life and love how they have endured through so much horseshit to be tough bastards. Child 44 is set in the post-WW2 Stalin period, and then shortly after, where the Gulag system is still in full throttle. Soviet Russia is an open air prison where you can't run for it, and someone is always watching you. Leo is an MGB officer, which is the secret police who rule horribly over the people. His comfortable world is upended, as he and his wife are spared death but shipped to a remote city as punishment for nothing. in nothing and nowhere, he finds redemption, attempting to find the murderer of random children.
This book is wonderful in the tension and stress it creates of the entire situation. A bad step could lead to a gulag. No one trusts one another, not even spouses. I thoroughly enjyoed the marriage at the heart of the book. A marriage built on fear and fraud that never contained love somehow builds into something organic. You will enjoy his wife. You will enjoy the random Russians that are not total stereotypes. The characters are fantastic.
There's just one catch. The ending is a bit weak, and after a while you see it coming. That bothered me a bit. It was not a cool tight ending like in the movie L.A. Confidential, but it was a bit hokey. It did not ruin the book, but it definitely could have been better. It just pissed me off. As the author has written a trilogy featuring Leo Demidov, I will definitely pick up the next two chapters of his tale.