Study Guide

Child 44

By Tom Rob Smith

Child 44 Introduction

Question: What's the best way to get into the spy thriller business?

Answer: Writing for Cambodian soap operas, of course.

Well, that's the path that Tom Rob Smith took, at least. After graduating from college in 2001, Smith wrote for several popular television shows for the BBC and eventually helped the network launch their first soap opera in Cambodia. Fast-forward just a few years, and the guy is totally releasing the action-packed, critically acclaimed thriller, Child 44.

Yeah, that's quite the leap, but Smith was totally up for it: his debut novel has earned its fair share of top honors since its publication, including the much-coveted CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award.

So what's this baby all about? Well, the novel follows Leo Demidov, a high-ranking member of the Soviet secret police, who's experiencing a bit of a crisis of conscience. Though he's always been a die-hard believer in his government's ideology, recent events have shaken that faith. In the wake of this realization, Leo struggles to come to terms with the harm he has done to so many of his fellow citizens.

Oh, yeah—and did we mention that there's a serial killer running amok?

You've probably already guessed that this is one action-packed book. You'll watch as Leo fights for justice in a system rigged to ensure the exact opposite. You'll watch as his wife, Raisa, struggles between her anti-authoritarian belief system and her love for her husband. And yes, you'll see plenty of car chases, fight scenes, and explosions, if that's your bag.

Don't pigeonhole Child 44 as just another action-thriller, though. Underneath all of this high-octane action and international espionage, there's a very sincere book about the importance of family, community, and—most importantly—love. And serial killers. We're always forgetting about that serial killer.

What is Child 44 About and Why Should I Care?

Child 44 is the literary equivalent of a summer blockbuster. The novel features:

  • Spies and double agents
  • Twisted serial killers
  • High-speed chases
  • Tense showdowns
  • Bloodthirsty Cyber-Zombies

Okay, so that last one isn't true, but you get the picture. Still, you'd be giving Child 44 short shrift by only focusing on its blockbuster moments.

That's because Child 44 is an ode to family, above all else. Underneath all of the political intrigue, all of the serial-killer mystery, and all of tense action, you'll find a heartfelt story about the lengths we'll go to for the people we love. Plus, if you think that your family is crazy, then just wait until you get a load of the Demidov clan—that's one gnarled family tree.

Child 44 Resources

Websites

Tom Rob Smith's Homepage
He's the man, the myth, the legend—the one and only Tom Rob Smith.

The History of Soviet Gulag
This site will give you an in-depth history on the oppressive Soviet prison system that haunts the pages of Child 44.

Movie or TV Productions

Child 44 (2015)
Child 44 reads like blockbuster thriller, so it makes sense that the book has been adapted into a blockbuster thriller, starring heavyweights like Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy.

Child 44 Trailer
Since your curiosity is surely piqued, why not take a gander at the trailer for the film adaptation?

Articles and Interviews

In Pursuit of a Russian Ripper
This chat with author Tom Rob Smith describes the real-life inspiration behind his decidedly unreal novel.

An Interview with Tom Rob Smith
In this interview, Smith discusses his storytelling style and the huge role his mother played in its development.

How Common Are Sadists?
This psychology article from Popular Science might give you insight into Andrei's twisted mindset—if you can handle it, that is.

Video

The Evolution of Child 44
In this brief interview, Tom Rob Smith describes the unique evolution of Child 44. Spoiler: it involves a Cambodian soap opera.

Tom Rob Smith's Chilling Research for Child 44
This interesting—and, okay, sort of cheesy—video provides insight into the real life stories that went into the making of Child 44.

A Biography of Andrei Chikatilo
This heart-pounding program documents the real story of serial killer Andrei Chikatilo—the inspiration behind Child 44's Andrei.

Audio

Moscow, In a Time of Fear
This chat with NPR focuses on Smith's portrayal of Moscow and the way that the city has changed in recent years.

The Spycast on Soviet Espionage
This episode from the International Spy Museum's podcast investigates the techniques and strategies utilized by Soviet spy agencies.

Images

The Lubyanka
This is the home of the MGB—the setting for some of Child 44's most harrowing scenes.

MGB Officer
Want to see the face of a fearsome agent of the MGB? Click at your own peril.