No crime here

24 09 2016

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith


It is set in the Soviet Union and in the year 1953; Stalin’s reign of terror is at its height, and those who stand up against the might of the state vanish into the labour camps – or vanish altogether. With this background, it is an audacious move on Tom Rob Smith’s part to put his hero right at the heart of this hideous regime, as an officer in no less than the brutal Ministry State Security.

Leo Demidov is, basically, an instrument of the state — by no means a villain, but one who tries to look not too closely into the repressive work he does. His superiors remind him that there is no crime in Soviet Union, and he is somehow able to maintain its fiction in his mind even as he tracks down and punishes the miscreants. The body of a young boy is found on railway tracks in Moscow, and Demidov is quickly informed that there is nothing to the case. He quickly realises that something unpleasant is being covered over here, but is forced to obey his orders. However, things begin to quickly unravel, and this ex-hero of state suddenly finds himself in disgrace, exiled with his wife Raisa to a town in the Ural Mountains. And things will get worse for him — not only the murder of another child, but even the life and safety of his wife.

Terrific debut thriller and thoroughly gripping throughout. Disturbing and inspired by a real child killer in the Soviet Union who escaped capture because the system protected him the novel captures the nightmare of society at the end of the Stalin era.

four stars

To the ends of the earth

17 09 2016

Explorers of the New Century by Magnus Mills


It is the beginning of the century, and two teams of explorers are racing across a cold, windswept, deserted land to reach the furthest point from civilisation. It is, they find, ‘an awfully long way’. Johns and his men take the western route, along a rocky scree, gossiping, bickering and grumbling as they go. Meanwhile, Tostig’s men make their way along the dry riverbed in the east – they are fewer, with just five men and ten mules, and better organised than their rivals. But with Johns’ team keeping apace in the distance, the race is on to reach the Agreed Furthest Point …

As precise and strange as Mills’ other outstanding novels this novel is a really dark, funny and deeply disturbing read. The distinctively direct narrative works perfectly and builds towards a striking conclusion.

4.5 stars

I don’t like to be beside the seaside

10 09 2016

Death and the Seaside by Alison Moore



With an abandoned degree behind her and a thirtieth birthday approaching, amateur writer Bonnie Falls moves out of her parents’ home into a nearby flat. Her landlady, Sylvia Slythe, takes an interest in Bonnie, encouraging her to finish one of her stories, in which a young woman moves to the seaside, where she comes under strange influences. As summer approaches, Sylvia suggests to Bonnie that, as neither of them has anyone else to go on holiday with, they should go away together – to the seaside, perhaps.

Brilliantly written and beautifully paced this is an outstanding and compelling novel. It’s subtle, clever and deeply disturbing. Highly recommended.

4.5 stars

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