You can read the blog, or you can click on one of the icons below to listen to the podcast version! Click HERE for more listening options!
**Warning: Spoilers for both book and movie!**
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (2008)
Child 44 directed by Daniel Espinosa (2015)
Leo is a security officer for Russia in the early 1950’s. However, when he is asked to denounce his wife but refuses, he is demoted to the militia and sent to a smaller town. While there, he tries to solve a series of murders, with the help of his wife and his militia commander. As he tracks down the killer, he learns even more the error of his ways when he was blindly following the Soviet leadership. In the end he finds the killer, who happens to be his long lost brother. The brother is killed and Leo returns to Moscow and is made head of the new homicide department.
Thoughts on Book
Prior to starting this book, I was having one of those weeks where I would pick up a book, read a few pages, maybe even a chapter, but just couldn’t stick with anything. This was the third or fourth book I tried, and I was immediately grabbed by the opening paragraph. The first few sentences read, “Since Maria had decided to die her cat would have to fend for itself. She’d already cared for it far beyond the point where keeping a pet made any sense. Rats and mice had long since been trapped and eaten by the villagers. Domestic animals had disappeared shortly after that. All except for one, this cat, her companion which she’d kept hidden. Why hadn’t she killed it? She needed something to live for; something to protect and love—something to survive for. She’d made a promise to continue feeding it up until the day she could no longer feed herself. That day was today.”
From there I had a hard part putting it down.
The first half or so, deals with Leo and his wife Raisa living in Russia as they deal with him being a Security Officer and the different problems and politics going on. Leo also finds himself starting to question the government he works for. At the halfway point, Leo has been stripped of his title and they are transferred to a new city. From here the book focuses on Leo, with the help of others, trying to solve the murderers. Even though the book has the added intrigue of Leo being chased down by the government for simply for trying to catch a murderer, it still lost my interest a bit when that became the focus.
There were also some aspects of it I found kind of disturbing and hadn’t been expecting it so I was caught off guard. I went into this book only knowing it took place in Russia, but maybe had I read what it was about I could have been prepared for the murderers and it wouldn’t have felt disappointing when it took this turn.
I did like the opening with the two brothers, Pavel and Andrei. They are starving and find a cat, which they try to catch. After catching it, they seperate to gather wood and Pavel is then kidnapped and Andrei thinks he abandoned him. When we are brought to current day, initially the main characters have different names, so as you are reading you are wondering how Pavel and Andrei will become part of this new story. I really liked this aspect of it.
This movie was directed by Daniel Espinosa, he has also directed Life and Safehouse. The script was adapted by Richard Price who has been a screenwriter since the 80’s and has written many scripts and a few novels.
The movie is very well done with solid acting and great cinematography. It is banned in Russia, which isn’t too surprising. Books (and movies) like this make me grateful to live in the USA where we don’t live under a dictatorship and have freedom of speech. I think too many people take that for granted.
I heard about this movie when I covered the movie The Drop which also stars Tom Hardy and Noomi Repace. They had been wanting to act together for a while, and finally got to do so in The Drop. Then this was the following year! I’m surprised I hadn’t watched it already, seeing as I love both Hardy and Repace and yet I had somehow had never heard of this til earlier this year.
Tom Hardy is always an excellent actor. He looks kind of sickly for a lot of this movie, I guess that was done on purpose. In the book, Leo was taking methamphetamines, so I thought maybe that’s why they had him look like that. However, this storyline is taken out of the movie so that wasn’t the case. I guess he just looked sick from all the stress he was under.
Noomi Repace plays Raisa and again, she is excellent. I love watching movies with her because she is such a presence when on screen.
Gary Oldman is in the fairly small role of Nesterov, the officer who is skeptical of Leo, but eventually helps him to solve the murders.
Joel Kinnaman is well cast as Leo’s nemesis of sorts, Vasili. Which by the way, in the book it talks about how Vasili’s dislike for Leo is personal. Yet we never even learn why he hates him so much! I thought the ending, when all three are there, some connection between Vasili and the brothers would be revealed but no such thing happens.
Paddy Considine is Vladimir, the killer. He gives a good portrayal of the mentally unstable man. When I looked up Considine, turns out he has been in several British comedies including Hot Fuzz which is a great one. He is also in The Death of Stalin, which not so coincidently will be my next podcast topic!
Pavel and Andrei
The start of both the book and movie start during the 1933 Holodomor. Wikipedia describes this event saying,
“’Holodomor means to kill by starvation’ also known as the Terror-Famine and sometimes referred to as the Great Famine, was a famine in Soviet Ukraine from 1932 to 1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians. The term Holodomor emphasizes the famine’s man-made and intentional aspects such as rejection of outside aid, confiscation of all household foodstuffs and restriction of population movement. As part of the wider Soviet famine of 1932–33 which affected the major grain-producing areas of the country, millions of inhabitants of Ukraine, the majority of whom were ethnic Ukrainians, died of starvation in a peacetime catastrophe unprecedented in the history of Ukraine. Since 2006, the Holodomor has been recognized by Ukraine and 15 other countries as a genocide of the Ukrainian people carried out by the Soviet government”
The movie begins in this time period and has Leo living in an orphanage but runs away and is adopted by a soldier.
The book has a very different beginning. It is set during the Holodomor, and Pavel finds the cat which was talked about in that opening paragraph. He gathers what he needs to catch it, and his mom tells him to take his little brother Andrei with him. Pavel is reluctant but agrees. They catch the cat, despite Andrei almost messing it up. Then Pavel is kidnapped by people who don’t even realize he has a cat; they are after him specifically.
Andrei’s mother is heartbroken because Pavel was her favorite son, and she tells Andrei that he was taken and killed though Andrei thinks he is still alive and simply abandoned them. The mom goes crazy and is very abusive to Andrei.
Pavel though, doesn’t die. Instead, he ends up being adopted by the people that kidnapped him. Despite their complicated way of meeting, it seems they have a close bond and love for each other by the time we meet them, when Pavel, who is now Leo, is about 30 years old.
Leo having this secret past and a brother is left out of the movie. This was a huge part in the book though, because that is the reason Andrei gives for having killed those kids, because he wanted to get Leo’s attention and get him to find Andrei. In the movie, the killer knows who Leo is, however they have no connection and he wasn’t trying to get Leo’s attention or anything.
In the book, Andrei was based on the real serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo. The movie for some reason changes his name to Vladimir. I guess they couldn’t make it obvious he was based on a real person for legal reasons or something.
In both, we learn that he suffered abuse and was a German POW, which also caused trauma. The books have the added part of him feeling abandoned by Leo and trying to devise a way to get Leo to find him. When Leo finds Andrei, Andrei has been expecting him and is very calm. Leo is taken aback by how calm he is. They talk, then Andrei asks if they can play a game of cards. During this time, both Raisa and Vasili enter the room and long story short, Andrei kills Vasili, then Leo kills Andrei. Andrei has two daughters, and one of them witnesses the death of her father.
In the movie, Leo finds Vladimir in the woods, where they have a brief conversation. While talking, Vasili approaches and shoots Vladimir. Then he fights with Leo and Raisa and they are able to kill Vasili.
In both, Leo tells the officials that Vasili dies a hero. The government says that Andrei/Vladimir was a German spy who was terrorizing the Soviets. Leo goes along with this and is able to form a homicide department. In the movie, Leo is more hesitant to agree that Vladimir was a German spy (because he obviously wasn’t). In the book he goes along with it and doesn’t disagree because he knows that is the only way he will be allowed to set up a homicide department and catch more killers in the future. Oh, and the way things are being run have changed a bit, because Stalin died even before Leo was sent to Voualsk. Which is why he and Raisa weren’t killed in the first place, because people in the government were scrambling, trying to decide what to do without Stalin. The movie doesn’t mention Stalin’s death.
Back to Andrei’s daughter, it seems the book kind of sets her up to come back in one of the following Leo novels because it says something about hate in her eyes when she sees what happened, so it seems she may grow up and want to seek revenge. We also learn more about her in general and her storyline was very interesting and kept me on the edge of my seat. This is one of the things I liked about the book, we see the POVs and internal dialogues of even minor characters who aren’t in much. Andrei’s daughter is one we return to multiple times and get a feel for who she is and how she thinks about her father.
In the movie, we see Vladamir has at least one son, but not much is shown with him and his family life.
The story with Raisa is similar in both book in movie. However, the book goes more into their relationship. Both talk about how she married him out of fear, and in the movie, you can see that by the end she loves him. In the book, it is said outright, and we get to see their relationship blossom as they work together to solve these crimes.
In the book, Raisa also convinces Leo that their fellow Russian citizens will help them in their cause. He is wary but agrees and Raisa is proven right. This was a nice touch, albeit a little cheesy in some ways, but that is how they are able to travel through various cities to get to Rostov. When they are on the train, and the guards are sent to kill them, in the movie it’s another prisoner who is paid by the guards, anyway, in the book they rely on the help of the other passengers to assist them. Their time on the train lasts much longer in the book and they have a bit more of an elaborate of an escape than the movie, where they simply jump off the train and that’s that.
We also learn that Raisa is unable to have children because of injuries that happened during the war when she was raped by soldiers. Leo is struck by this, because he is aware soldiers raped women, but never thought about how that could have happened to Raisa. He had been a war hero and had a picture from the war hanging in the house. He now realizes what horrible things that photo represented for her.
In both book and movie, there is also the story of Raisa’s teacher friend Ivan. She is in love with him, but they have never been intimate. In both, they visit him to get help when back in Moscow and they find out he was an agent all along. I really liked this storyline and totally didn’t see that coming!
Alexandr and Varlam
In the book, there is the first murder in Voualsk is pinned on a mentally handicapped 17 year old named Varlam. Then there is a second murder, done in an identical way, but they think it must have been done by a man who is secretly gay. They pin these murders on someone outside of the “norm”, to prevent people from losing faith in the system. Which, of course, people already have lost faith and are living in fear, so these government workers are only fooling themselves.
Anyway, they have the ticket master Alexandr name any gay men in the town. They question them and end up discovering a doctor who had propositioned a boy in the orphanage, and the doctor ends up committing suicide before he can be tortured and interrigated . Alexandr also commits suicide because he feels such guilt about turning in all those innocent men.
In the movie, Varlam isn’t really in any of the movie. Then, they kind of make it seem like they thought Alexandr killed the child. But they still have him make a list of names. In the movie Alexandr commits suicide like he did in the book. Like I said though, the movie made it seem like they suspected Alexandr, whereas in the book they knew he was innocent and just blackmailed him to name names.
Child 44 is the first of three books that follow Leo and Raisa as they solve crimes. In the following books, they also have their daughters that are involved in the story. Even though Smith is a talented writer, there were some things in this book that I found disturbing, and it makes me question if I would want to read the other two books.
I know serial killer documentaries and shows, and such are super popular right now, but I just don’t like learning about them. It’s upsetting to learn what they put their victims through, and I am perfectly fine living life being totally unaware of the horrible things that can be done to a person.
I also don’t have much interest in learning what causes a person to do these things. Chikatilo for example, went through a lot of trauma and abuse. Nonetheless, he deserves to die because of what he has done. If the person can’t control it, because there is something wrong with their brain, that’s sad but they still need to be put to death. If they can control it but feel the need to do it because of the trauma they suffered, that’s no excuse! I get Chikatilo went through horrible things, but that is no reason to do the horrendous things he did. Anyone who does such things clearly has something wrong mentally and ultimately need to be put to death. To be honest, I also find it kind of off-putting when people are into all those serial killer documentaries. Why do you want to learn all these disturbing details, you freak??
The book also has a disturbing scene when we get a flashback to when Leo was kidnapped by the people that later become his parents. It just really put a bad taste in my mouth (pun intended, for those who read the book and know what I’m referring to) so that along with the serial killer aspect were just too uncomfortable for me.
Book or Movie
In the end, despite my complaints with the book, I am tempted to say I still liked it better. It was more intriguing and having Leo and Andrei be brothers was a nice touch. The movie is a bit less upsetting in some ways, but it still involves a serial killer who preys on children, so it is going to be upsetting regardless. But, I think I’ll stick with the book being the better of the two. As I said, Smith really is a great writer and is very detailed, without dragging on and on. The movie is a solid adaptation though and they really did do a good job including a lot from the book in the movie. The acting is also solid all the way around. I just wish they would have stuck with the Pavel and Andrei storyline, and that beginning chapter of the book was just a great way to start the story.