Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith

(2009: second novel in the Agent Leo Demidov trilogy)

From the inside flap:

"Soviet Union, 1956. Stalin is dead, and a violent regime is beginning to fracture -- leaving behind a society where the police are the criminals and the criminals are innocent. A secret speech composed by Stalin's successor Khruschev is distributed to the entire nation. Its message: Stalin was a tyrant. Its promise: the Soviet Union will change.

"Facing his own personal turmoil, former state security officer Leo Demidov is also struggling to change. The two young girls he and his wife, Raisa, adopted have yet to forgive him for his part in the death of their parents. They are not alone. Now that the truth is out, Leo, Raisa, and their family are in grave danger from someone consumed by the dark legacy of Leo's past career. Someone transformed beyond recognition into the perfect model of vengeance."


The political is once again personal in this follow-up to Child 44. Leo Demidov and his wife Raisa are not only struggling with the tensions of living within a society where it is understood that relationships bear a fifty-percent chance of denouncement (meaning torture, imprisonment and death, or worse, being sent to a gulag, a prison camp) but the fact that one of their adoptive daughters (Zoya) is openly courting getting arrested via her rejection of Leo (who was present when her parents were brutally killed), her public denouncements of Stalin and other actions.

Zoya's actions place the Demidov family -- including her younger sister, Elena -- in grave danger, because State Security forces believe that where there's one rotten apple there must be more, even -- especially -- if the head of that family is the head of the homicide squad, an entity that is inherently offensive to many (after all, there is no murder in paradise, only foreign/Main Adversary* agents seeking to tear it down).

Secret, like its source story, is a cinematic-vivid work, with its no-wasted-scenes, editing and its effective, sudden (sometimes surprising) flashes of tenderness at the unlikeliest of moments or between the unlikeliest of people. Also, like Child 44, it is a conscious, if fictionalized, account showing the historic and political evolution of Russia, as it, on a larger scale, struggles with the changes and inherent harshness built into its system.

What sets Secret apart from its source novel is that Secret has a lot more action scenes. While Child 44 had its share of violence, it read like a bloody drama; Secret still has drama, but its pacing and edits make it read like an action novel.

This is an excellent and breakneck-paced book, one worth owning. Followed by Agent 6.


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