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Having read and loved Tom Rob Smith's debut novel Child 44, I had no doubt I'd be reading the follow-up novel The Secret Speech.
The Secret Speech takes us back to 1950's Russia where former Secret Police Officer Leo Demidov lives with his wife Raisa and the two young girls they adopted. The young girls have not forgiven him for his part in their parents murder. It seems they're not the only ones who haven't forgiven Leo... Stalin's successor Khrushchev has written a secret speech and it is distributed to the nation. The speech denounces Stalin as a murderer and, as such, the police are now enemies. With someone intent on revenge, Leo finds himself and his family in more danger than they've ever been.
So, did The Secret Speech live up to its predecessor?
It certainly did. Tom Rob Smith must delight in giving his readers tense and gripping reads. I kept telling myself I'd put the book down at the end of the chapter and go to bed, but found myself reading on through the chapters, needing to find out what happened next.
Once again, the reader gets a real feel for 1950's Russia and the regime its people lived under. The book had me wincing at some of the treatment the characters sustained. How people could do that to other people is beyond my comprehension, but it happens and Tom Rob Smith writes it so you can imagine the scenes all too well. Admittedly, I didn't think The Secret Speech shocked me as much as Child 44 did, but, nevertheless I found it a thrilling read.
If you enjoy thrillers that are tense, gripping and ruthless, then this is a series for you!
If you haven't already read Child 44 then I would recommend doing so before reading The Secret Speech. I'm already looking forward to reading the 3rd book in this series, Agent 6, to find out what Leo Demidov must overcome next.
This sequel to bestselling thriller Child 44 is something of an unfortunate disappointment. Readers of my reviews will recall that the first novel recounted the investigation by MGB Officer Leo Dormidov into a series of child murders, hampered by the Stalinist society that strived to insist that there was no crime. Betrayed at every step by his colleagues and forced to lead his investigation in his own time in secret, constantly facing opposition from his superiors, Leo nonetheless proved he was correct and that a murderer was managing to slip through the system which in turn lead to him getting a promotion of sorts. Now, Leo has his own department dedicated to tracking down killers in a new era of Russia that constantly strives to forget and erase its past. But Leo is facing not just constant scrutiny by those above him, simply waiting for him to fail, but also has to face opposition at home from the two young sisters he has adopted and taken into his home.
Leo welcomes a "new" Russia and welcomes the changes this new time has brought in but the past cannot be just swept under the carpet and, as Leo has already discovered, has a habit of floating back to the surface! When a speech intended for internal use only is released to members of the public, the targets are former KGB and MGB Officers and Personnel who once took part in interrogations and upheld the wholescale persecution of innocents. Soon the death toll is rising as some take their own life and others are hounded to their death. There seems to be a plot behind whatever is going on and, as Leo looks into it following the death of a former close friend, it soon becomes apparent thast someone has a very vested and personal intrest in not just The State but also Leo himself!
I really wanted to like this but was a little put off by the excerpt that I read at the closing of Child 44. Nevertheless, I thought I would give this a go because, apart from a few flaws, 44 was actually quite good and took a very interesting viewpoint being set, as it was, in Stalinist Russia where crime simply was not acknowledged unless it was against The State!
The problem with this book is that Child 44 was about a personal journey for Leo as well as being about an unacknowledged serial killer. With Secret Speech, that journey has already been completed so the only way to go is back...into Leo's sordid past! This is okay but doesn't really work that well with the bits of the story that follow on from 44 and the more weaker aspects from that first book seem to simply be extrapolated and expanded on here! Some of the action scenes rang a little false in 44 and here there is much more of those, supposedly pampering to what the publishers think the audience is after when instead what would've been nicer is a much more competent thriller that closer resembled the more stronger moments of Tom Rob Smith's admittedly very good debut instead of the weaker!
I do not like either the way that all speech is conducted in italiacs still with no speech marks or proper pronounciation! I am not a grammer nazi by any means but did not like the way conversations were conducted in the first book so am even less keen on them here! It is the first time I have seen speech transcribed this way in a novel and I must say I am not impressed by it! If this had been a better story, maybe I might have ben able to make allowances!
All in all, I am making this sound like I didn't enjoy the book and that is wrong! It was okay but, I felt, distinctly average from someone who so impressed first time around! I thought with book 2 that some of the teething problems might have been resolved, instead it seems as though Tom Rob Smith has actually taken a step, like that of his main character, backwards. And that is a shame....
Therefore I would reccommend this only if you were totally blown away by Child 44! Anyone who, like me was impresed but thought the author could do better would be advised to pick up something else because this is okay but simply no better than that!