Leo Demidov works for the Ministry of State Security. When his wife's name, Raisa, appears on a list of spies, "denounced" by an innocent man under torture, Leo gets tasked to investigate her. He believes in her innocence and refuses to denounce her to his superiors. The result is that both get exiled from Moscow to a provincial city, and Leo also gets degraded to a lowly militiaman. In his new job he encounters the apparently solved case of a murdered child. It reminds him of a similar case in Moscow he was forced to hush up as an accident. He starts his own investigations and is convinced that there is a serial killer out there. Something that can't be because officially there is no murder in a communist paradise...
I enjoyed Child 44, it's well written. And with Leo there is an interesting main character: a "bad" guy turned "good", with blood on his hands. The author does a good job in describing the fearful atmosphere in Stalin's Soviet Union. Only the end was a disappointment and the motive of the killer too far-fetched.
Quotes from the book
Maria waited until nightfall before opening her front door. She reckoned that under the cover of darkness her cat stood a better chance of reaching the woods unseen. If anyone in the village caught sight of it they'd hunt it. Even this close to her own death, the thought of her cat being killed upset her. She comforted herself with the knowledge that surprise was on its side. In a community, where grown men chewed clods of earth in the hope of finding ants or insect eggs, where children picked through horse shit in the hope of finding undigested husks of grain and women fought over the ownership of bones, Maria was sure no one believed that a cat could still be alive.
"Your brother is dead. He's been taken for food."
Better to let ten innocent men suffer than one spy escape.
Those who appear the most trustworthy deserve the most suspicion.
He'd made many arrests knowing only the citizen's and address and the fact that someone mistrusted them. A suspect's guilt became real as soon as they became a suspect. As for evidence, that would be acquired during their interrogation.
"I will not make this easy for you. If you want me to say I'm a spy you will have to torture me."
Youth provided no protection. The age at which a child could be shot for their crimes, or their father's crimes, was twelve."
"The problem with becoming powerless, as you are now, is that people start telling you the truth. You're not used to it, you've lived in a world protected by the fear you inspire."
"These men are innocent." Nesterov had stared at him, puzzled. "All these men are guilty. The question is which one is also guilty of murder."
While guards were indifferent whether prisoners lived or died, escape was unpardonable. It made a mockery not only of the guards but of the entire system. No matter who the prisoners were, no matter how unimportant, their escape made them important.
"Isn't this how it starts? You have a cause you believe in, a cause worth dying for. Soon, it's a cause worth killing for. Soon, it's a cause worth killing innocent people for."