For those who don't know this book was set in Stalins Soviet Union where to the outsider at least life was perfect, there was no crime and the State was everything. To those on the inside life was very different. Unable to trust anyone, even family members, citizens lived in constant fear of the 4 am knock on the door from the secret police who would remove a person for being a traitor to the revolution. Reasons were never given why and the person was more often than not never seen again, tortured to death or sent to work the last of their days in a Gulag. So what happens when a crime, murder no less, occurs? How can you investigate a crime in a Country that refuses to acknowledge they occur?
I enjoyed reading about Russia during this period. One member in particular commented she was very interested to read about it as she had been taken in at the time Stalin was ruler and how different the global image was to the reality was shocking.
The book was very brutal - the killer murdered children quite horribly, torture and even quite a descriptive autopsy increased the gore content and on top of this there was the underlying brutality of life in Russia at that period of time. One member of the group hated the book for this very reason she said it felt like there was something violent on every page. I could see her point but don't think it was simply there for the word count. Did you know the killer is based on a real life killer? Not to give too much away certain circumstances and plot have been changed but Google it to learn more.
It did take a little while for the investigation to get under way which I didn't expect but the surrounding story was good enough to carry you until this point. At one point though I was wondering whether we would have to read through 44 murders before we realised there was a murderer on the loose. I liked Leo and Raisa and the development of their characters/marriage. I gasped out loud when Raisa revealed the truth about her pregnancy! I do think though that Smith could have capitalised more on the whole was Raisa a spy or not story line. The searching of the flat had me gripped.
Whereas the first half of the book did have me gripped in many places I do think it was a book of two halves. I loved learning about Russia, the description about the orphanage (and the statistics at the end of the book as to how many spoons per child) was truly harrowing. I quite liked the detective part and when Leo and Raisa got transferred to a new life in the country. Where I think it fell down was when suddenly everyone started to help them. Would this really have been likely in the world the author went to such pains to tell the reader was hell on earth? One member said she got why the people on the train helped as really they had nothing to lose but the people who were 'safe' in the towns and villages they travelled to. Surely in an environment where it was common for you to betray your own family (as Leo was asked to betray his wife) why help a stranger? Because torture of innocent family members is OK but the murder of a child isn't? It just didn't sit with me. Yes it was good that they were outraged by a child killer but equally these were people who had had their husbands, wives, mothers taken from them without saying a word.
I was also slightly disappointed to note that this is another book that has had a film made out of it. Well done to Smith, I'm not saying its undeserving but it definitely seems to be a trend at the moment - where are our original screen writers??? Are the books we are reading deliberately being written for the screen? If yes how does this change the book? Ooh think I may have my question of the month there! Another point that slightly let it down was the fact that its a trilogy. Again well done to Smith but I don't think I'm giving too much away when I say its a pretty sure bet that at least one of the lead characters will survive until at least book two.
Anyway the group really liked the book and it walked away with a 9 out of ten. By we are getting some high scorers this year! I gave the first half of the book an 8 and the second half a 7 so I guess I average 7.5.
Next book is Jamaica Inn by Dauphne Du Maurier