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Book Review – ‘The Secret Speech’

The Secret Speech**SOME SPOILERS**

Title: The Secret Speech (Book 2 in the ‘Leo Demidov’ trilogy)
Author: Tom Rob Smith
Genre: Fiction (Crime/Thriller)
Rating: ★★★☆

“Soviet Union, 1956.  It is a period of wrenching change.  Stalin is dead, and a regime once held together by fear is beginning to fracture, creating a lawless society where the police have become the criminals and the criminals take vengeance against them. A series of murders now has all of Moscow on edge, and no one — no matter how powerful or connected — seems safe. With his new and secretive homicide department, Leo Demidov investigates — only to find that he, his wife, and his two adopted daughters may be in grave danger. For Leo is a former state security officer who arrested and condemned many of his fellow citizens, and despite all his efforts to atone for his past, he cannot escape the long shadow of his former career. To save his family, Leo must make a desperate choice and face an impossible journey that may bring his redemption…or shatter their fragile future.” (tomrobsmith.com)

The Secret Speech picks up around three years after the events that took place in Child 44 (my review for that is here). The entire plot of the novel, as well as the title, is based on an address by Stalin’s successor, Nikita Krushchev, in which he “criticized Stalin for arresting and deporting opponents, for elevating himself above the party and for incompetent wartime leadership, among other things” (history.com). Tom Rob Smith’s novel takes a look at the consequences of this speech for those government officials who carried out Stalin’s orders; government officials such as former MGB officer, Leo Demidov, whose past comes back to destroy the new life he has tried to create for himself.

As expected the novel contained plenty of twists and turns, but I have to be honest and say I didn’t enjoy The Secret Speech quite as much as Child 44. That’s not to say it was unpleasant to read, but I found myself a lot less engaged with this one. There are multiple reasons for this.

First, Leo was just too nice; I liked him a lot more when he didn’t really comprehend how wrong his actions were. While his attempts to atone for his sins were admirable, it took away some of the realness of him. He was a far more believable character when he was a tortured soul, who was seemingly irredeemable.

Secondly, the plot twists that I so loved in Child 44 didn’t have the same impact in The Secret Speech. It was almost like they’d be thrown in for the sake of being there. I felt as though I was set up for something only for it to have served little to no purpose to the plot. I would have much preferred to have not had it included in the first place.

Finally, I felt really uncomfortable reading some of the violence in the novel. I can hear you now: If you’re uncomfortable with violence, why are you reading a crime novel? Let’s be real, most people should, in some capacity, be uncomfortable with violence. In this day and age we are all probably a little desensitised to it when it is used for entertainment purposes, and in a literary sense, if violence is needed to serve a particular purpose and to move the plot forward, go right ahead and stick it in your book. I have no issue reading it, and will happily write it myself if it’s needed. There just seemed to be a lot of it in The Secret Speech.
I don’t know, maybe I’m being a bit sensitive (which is really unlike me). But the horrendous actions of the villain in Child 44 were integral to the plot, whereas in The Secret Speech they served little purpose. One scene in particular of people being hung upside by the ankles over a fire, and being allowed to burn to death seemed especially irrelevant, notably because it didn’t move the plot anywhere – it was just a thing that happened.

It sounds like I hated the novel. But in truth I thought it was a pretty solid follow up to Child 44 – I still read it quickly, and the historical aspect of it was interesting; I actually had no idea about Krushchev’s speech. Whether or not the results of this speech as portrayed in the novel are an accurate portrayal of what happened in reality, is another matter altogether and something I’ll have to look into for my own personal interest. But regardless, it still made for an interesting novel.
My problem (in case you can’t see it), is that I compared it too much to it’s predecessor, which was really hard not to do when the first book was so amazing. So, if you’ve read Child 44 and loved it as much as I did, but haven’t yet moved onto the next book in the trilogy, you should do so. But do so with some caution – don’t go blundering into it with high expectations. It’s a great read, but doesn’t quite reach the heights set by Child 44.

WHO SHOULD READ ITIf you’ve read the first book in the ‘Leo Demidov Trilogy’, Child 44, it’s definitely worth checking this out. If you haven’t read Child 44, you do need to read that first, as that book really sets this one up. But if you’re in any way squeamish, this might not be the book for you.
WHO YOU’LL LOVE
Leo’s work colleague and friend, Timur Nesterov was my favourite in this book. He had a bit more page time and proved himself to be a very admirable human being. I loved Leo in Child 44, but I found him a bit annoying this time around. Maybe because he was trying too hard to be good. Keep some bad in you, Leo. Keep some bad.
FAVOURITE QUOTEThere are none! No turned over page corners, and no post-it tabs reminding me of something awesome. Shame.

And now, a question for you: When you read sequels, do you try to judge them on their own merits, or do you find yourself constantly comparing them to the book that came before?

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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Book Review – ‘Agent 6 ‘ | bitsnbooks

  2. I think I was much more likely to read sequels when I was younger… These days, I’m much more about my standalone books! But I think that I absolutely fall into the trap of comparing them to their predecessors, especially if it’s a continuation of a plot rather than a variation on a theme.

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    • Yep I’m a bit the same. Especially as now that I’m older and have a concept of time, I hate having to wait years between instalments.
      I read the final book in this series last weekend and I was really disappointed in it. So much so that I wish I hadn’t read it.

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