When I picked up Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith from the library, I was so excited. A highly touted debut novel about a serial killer, and the last serial killer novels I have read were dismal (Darkly Dreaming Dexter and Hannibal Rising). I started greedily reading the pages while on the F train and had to put it away and go to the less inflammatory novel I had checked out. The beginning scenes of Child 44 made me feel very claustrophobic and overwhelmed. I don’t think a book has affected me that way since Scott Smith’s The Ruins, which I had to put away at times because I couldn’t bear to read what would happen next to the characters. (Maybe it’s something about the Smiths.) Child 44 is a sophisticated first novel, and Smith’s characters, setting, and pacing quite dimensional. I was taken by how he portrays Stalinist Russia first as a stern yet loving parent, but then the government turns cruel and oppressive when things sour for the main character Leo. Raisa is his wife and and equally steely foil, a target of many because her beauty makes her stand out. Everything is neatly tied up by the end of the story with only one or stwo situations smelling implausible, but I still bought the story. Now I’m more interested in reading about what happened in Stalinist Russia–the horrors that occurred there–and have put Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago on my reading table. We’ll see if I get to it. Very dense pages and so much else I am reading right now.