This book has been described as a “relentless page turner.”  I could not agree more.

Make no mistake; this is not for the faint of heart.  It’s an unflinching, and at times violent portrayal of life in Stalin’s Soviet Union.  This is a life that no one would envy, where every Russian citizen is potentially guilty of treason.  Any suspected infraction against the State was reason for imprisonment, torture, and execution.  It’s no secret that during Stalin’s terror-infused reign, millions of innocent citizens were slaughtered in the name of a ‘Soviet paradise.’

Under Stalin’s rule, there was ‘equality’ among its citizens.  Therefore, there was no need for crime of any sort.  The State would not acknowledge it.  Anyone who might suggest that it existed was sent to the Gulags for execution, or sentenced to years of hard labor.

At the center of this bleak existence is Leo Demidov, an MGB officer of the State Security Force, who has spearheaded his share of arrests.  He has always towed the line for the State.  He has never questioned the dictates.  The State knows best.  His reward for this loyalty was a comfortable life in Moscow.  He has a beautiful wife, Raisa, and parents who also live in comfort, thanks to Leo’s position.

Then, things change.  Leo is demoted.  He’s denounced.  Humiliated by his enemies, Leo and his wife are essentially sent into exile, where they both live in squalor as they work in a new, small town.  The life they knew vanished in an instant.  Now enemies of the State, every move they make is scrutinized.

The dark undercurrent of this story is that there are murders taking place across Russia.  Horrific murders.  Children in this Soviet paradise are being killed in clusters along the route of the train.  After piecing these not-so-random events together, Leo starts an independent investigation.  This is no easy task, as he must collect evidence while trying desperately to keep his actions quiet.  The State cannot know that he is searching for a murderer.

Simply put, since there is no crime in Russia, it would be impossible for there to be a serial killer on the loose.  But there is, and he has left an ungodly 44 children in his wake.

While Leo and his wife track down the killer, the chapters of this book become a total blur.  The story becomes a fierce journey that doesn’t let up until the very end.  A consistent page-burner!

I must admit that there were times during this story that I grew a little irritated by the violence.  I don’t particularly like these details.  However, in hindsight, I suppose they were included to portray a brutal existence.  The fact that no one could be trusted was also exhausting.  This was clearly a result of Stalin’s rule.  It must have been exactly what he wanted.

It’s hard to believe that this was anyone’s debut novel.  Author Tom Rob Smith has absolutely guaranteed that I’ll be picking up the second and third books in his series, which are The Secret Speech (Leo Demidov #2) and Agent 6 (Leo Demidov #3).  I need to take a bit of a break though…. those last few chapters really had me chewing my nails.

5 stars!