For the first time, my initial impressions of a book were wrong! It turns out I don’t hate Child 44. Just, like, the first 200 pages of it. And like 50% of the pages thereafter. What I am saying is that this book is way too long.
The Book: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Genre: historical fiction, mystery, thriller, first in a series
First impressions: Child 44 is a big-ass tomb of a book, with my hardcover copy clocking in at 436 pages (a paperback copy I perused reached 524). Its prose is monotonous and the story moves excruciatingly slowly, to the point where it’s a challenge to follow the plot. Reading it is kind of like staring at grass, trying to see it grow.
That said, once I’d struggled through enough of this book to excavate the plot, it got really compelling. Child 44 is the story of Leo, a MGB detective in Soviet Russia, whose comfortable life as a posterboy for the State is overturned by a fellow officer with a vendetta, and a string of child murders nobody dares investigate. With help from his wife, Raisa, Leo struggles to catch a killer while evading execution by the State to which he’s devoted his life. It’s super fucking intense.
That said, this book is about twice as long as it needs to be. All the extra space gives the characters plenty of time to develop, which makes them compelling and realistic, but in the end, there’s just too much. It’s cumbersome. Scenes are written with such excruciating detail that you get forget what happened at the beginning of the paragraph, just trying to make it to the end. Which is a shame, because once you’ve dug it out the plot is plenty exciting.
Will it adapt?: Yes. Once you’ve peeled back the excess prose, Child 44 is a thrilling tale with clearly drawn characters and a neatly wrapped up ending. A lot will need to be cut, but there’s a lot of chaff that could stand cutting, so I think that will work in the movie’s favor. It won’t be the most action-y thriller of all time–what violence it contains is quick and dirty–but there’s lots of opportunity for stunning vistas and stark city visuals, so it’ll probably be pretty. What I’m not sure about is how rounded the characters will be; in the book, they’re all carefully drawn, but the movie will have to reduce them to archetypes just to get the story across.
Should I read it?: It’s not a waste of your time, but it will take a lot of time. Only read it if Soviet Russia is totally your thing, because for the first two hundred pages or so, the only thing sustaining the story is its realistic depictions of life in a communist dictatorship. If you’re in it for the murder and mystery, stick with the movie.
“To stand up for someone was to stitch your fate into the lining of theirs.” –Child 44, Tom Rob Smith
This post is part of my I Read It First series.