05/11/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Book Review: "Child 44"

"Child 44" - Audio Book
by Tom Rob Smith; Narrator: Dennia Boutsikaris

While there are flashes of a compelling police mystery in this first novel by Tom Rob Smith, the primary problem is the plot and characters come off as plodding, bleak and brutal as the oppressive 1950s Stalinist Russia that it's set in. Fear and despair rule. Innocents are graphically tortured to give up the names of other innocents who, in turn, are graphically tortured - all of which is vividly experienced by the listener, making a lot of this audio book mesmerizing.

Narrator Dennis Boutsikaris, among the best voice actors in the audio book business, doesn't help here. Someone decided to use Russian accents through-out. Yes, it's organically correct, but dramatically the thick Russian accents only serve to limit the characters emotional range. Boutsikaris squeezes as much out of them as possible but after a while they all tend to sound like Boris and Natasha from The Bullwinkle Show.

It's well into the fourth disc of this Russian maze that the listener starts caring about the main guy, Leo, the secret service cop. That's because his well-ordered life starts to crumble, forcing him to face himself and his failing marriage.

The oppressive, brutal Stalinist state is the primary villain here. While that's sociologically accurate there is no dominate, despicable face throughout to match the cop's intensity.
When the serial killer story-line finally kicks into main gear, things starts picking up for the listener. Finding the killer becomes the main propellant for the cop's redemption to society and his wife.

The who-did-it ending disappoints. There is an isolated foreshadowing early on, but, basically, it comes out of left field leaving the listener feeling manipulated.

The bottom line is: Some flashes of WOW scattered thru a Chekhovian labyrinth. With the right adjustments, a skilled movie producer and director could make this work quite well on screen. Think Viggo Mortensen as Leo.

Child 44" - Audio Book
AUTHOR: Tom Rob Smith
GENRE: Who-Done-it: Stalinist Edition
LENGTH: 12.5 hours
PUBLISHER: Hachette Audio/Grand Central Publishing
NARRATOR: Dennia Boutsikaris