Sunday, December 12, 2010

Child 44

A serial killer is on the loose in the 1950s Soviet Union, but the authorities don't want to know. Individual police forces pin the crimes on marginalised outsiders – the mentally ill, homosexuals – or cover them up as accidents and there is no coordination between different jurisdictions. By-the-book cop falls out of favour with his superiors and gets exiled from his privileged position in Moscow to the wastelands of a factory town hundreds of kilometres to the east. Unsurprisingly he is the only person to connect the murders and, fighting against the system, he manages to unravel the crimes and find the killer.

I am being a bit unfair: there are lots of interesting aspects to the story. For example, the way the police's function is to protect the interests of the state apparatus without any pretense of protecting its citizens and the problem of reconciling the existence of crime within in a theoretically just and equitable society.

Unfortunately, too much time has been spent thinking through the twists and turns of the story, and not enough time spent on the writing. The suffering and hardship (of which there is plenty ...) doesn't feel real and the awful events don't connect emotionally. It reads like he wrote it as the screenplay for a movie. The plot and the action is all there, but the characters are lacking in depth and personality, as if waiting for the actors to add this dimension to the story.

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