Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Secret Speech - Tom Rob Smith (audio)

I've been very excited about the release of this novel. The Secret Speech is the much-awaited (personally, at least) sequel to the Booker-nominated Child 44, written by the handsome Tom Rob Smith. To refresh yourself, my review of Child 44 is here. In Smith's first novel, we became attached to the MGB officer Leo Demodov, who was once a brutal abuser serving the whims of Stalin, and discovered his humanity in an extremely personal investigation of a serial murder of children. This novel was an all-around win in my opinion...a brilliant debut.

Leo and his wife Raisa, are struggling to raise their two adoptive daughters, whose parents were killed by the Stalinist regime that Leo once supported. The younger daughter is flourishing, but the older one, Zoya, has nothing but hate for Leo. She even goes so far as to stand over him while he sleeps, with a knife in her hand and evil intentions in her heart.

It is 1956. Stalin is dead and Nikita Krushchev is in charge. The "secret speech", dictated by Krushchev, is circulated far and wide, denouncing Stalin, his minions, and all their tortuous acts. (This is historical fact, by the way.) Everyone remotely involved in Stalinist Russia is getting mighty nervous. Some run, some commit suicide. Pandemonium ensues. Stalinist Russia supported a denial mentality, you see..."we are all good people, nothing bad happens here, everything is in control". So this admission is a real kick in the arse, if I may be so bold. Old Stalinist officials are starting to be picked off, alarmingly, one by one, by someone who is back to seek revenge for the sins of the past. Smith isn't afraid to knock a few people off in the name of revenge, by the way. I love him for that boldness.

Leo just happens to be one of those offenders. His daughter Zoya is kidnapped, and Leo must do whatever it takes to right the wrongs he has committed in the past and get his daughter back. He will risk his life, and the lives of his friends. It doesn't matter that Zoya hates him and everything he stands for. He wants a normal life, a normal family. It is very important to him.

Leo and Raisa are yet again on the road, fighting for their family's happiness. They don't know if they will be able to drag Zoya back from the clutches of the dark side, and at the same time, defeat a decade-old enemy. There are some serious rebellious politics at work, a fanaticism and even a romanticism that could be hard to compete with.

I REALLY wanted to love this book, as I did Child 44. The hype was there. Even a blogger friend, Simon, was able to interview Smith IN PERSON (of which I was quite jealous). But in my honest opinion, while I was entertained, I was ready for the book to end about halfway through. It was almost like the novel was having an identity crisis. Is it a political thriller? A murder mystery? A drama about the strength of family? Is it about the Hungarian Revolution? I love the Russian history, but the plot was too disorganized for personal investment or focus. We still have a fondness for Leo - the guy really wants to overcome his past sins. But the story came up a tad bit cold for me. I'm almost depressed to say this, but those are my feelings.

On the brighter side of things, I enjoyed yet again a narration by Dennis Boutsikaris, who narrated for Child 44 as well. He captures the essence of the Russian accents and vocal intonations perfectly.

My best advice? Read Child 44. If you find yourself enamoured with Leo and desperately needing to know the follow-up to the debut, proceed with your expectations in check.

3 out of 5 stars


Melody said...

Sounds intense!! I need to check out Child 44 first before looking out for this one!

Beth F said...

I keep meaning to get to Child 44. I know me, if I like the first book, I'm sure I'll be reading this one as well (warnings in mind)

Sandy Nawrot said...

Melody - I think if you read Child 44, you won't be able to resist this one!

Beth - I am the same way. Alot of people griped about Child 44, but I loved it. It was great on audio. Even if everyone on earth told me NOT to read this one, I would have anyway, because I needed to know what happened to Leo and his family!

Unknown said...

I'm going to avoid reading this review as I have Child 44 lined up next. I'll come back in a few weeks to see if it is worth getting hold of it's sequel.

Anonymous said...

I sadly agree with you on halfway through thinking "are we finished yet" it just didn't compare to how clever and wonderful Child 44 was, I hope the final in the trilogy is abck to Child 44 standards.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Jackie - probably a smart choice. I had to give just a couple things away from the first book to even begin to talk about this one. I am anxious to hear about your opinion of Child 44.

Simon - it was almost like a different writer, I am sorry to say. Completely different kind of story altogether. I had forgotten there was a third book coming out. I am sure I will read it!

Andreea said...

I’m sorry that you are a little disappointed with this book and that you expected it to be better. Great review, though:)

Darlene said...

I really don't like when a sequel just doesn't hold up to the first book. That's really too bad Sandy. I still haven't read Child 44 but I have heard a lot of good things about it.

bermudaonion said...

I loved Child 44, and I'm glad to see this one is just as good!

Anna said...

I've had my eye on Child 44 for a while. Sorry this one wasn't as good for you.

Diary of an Eccentric