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THE SECRET SPEECH
By Tom Rob Smith
Grand Central Publishing, First Trade Edition May, 2010 ($13.99)
Reviewed by Larry Jung
In the second book by Tom Rob Smith featuring Leon Demidov, Officer in the Cold War Soviet State Security Service, the Soviet State is rocked to its foundations by what history now calls the Secret Speech delivered by Nikita Khrushchev during the 20th Party Congress. In it Khrushchev denounced the oppressive practices during Stalin's regime. Down to the lowest functionary, the State was guilty of heinous crimes against the Russian people. The list of crimes included torture, arbitrary arrests, banishment of whole families, political witch-hunts. Citizens were encouraged to secretly denounce associates, friends, and even close family as enemies to the State. State officials, particularly those in the Security services, regularly abused their positions of authority.
For years Leon Demidov did his share and more of brutal interrogations, arbitrary arrests, and raids in the dead of night on terrified families. He had been directly responsible for banishment to the Siberian Gulags of entire families into hard labor working the mines and forests. But Leon thought he could move beyond his past. Rewarded for stopping a serial killer, Leon has been given his own homicide department. Now he can be a good policeman and solve crimes. Now he can go home and not be ashamed to tell his wife what he does at work. To make amends he and his wife have adopted two little girls, Zoya and Elena, who lost their parents as a direct result of Leon. But his past and the misery he caused has come back to hurt him and his family. There is a new series of murders that are tied to the Secret Speech. It seems someone or some group are out for revenge. Victims include his former mentor and partner. While investigating these revenge murders, Leon's adopted daughter Zoya is kidnapped and held for ransom. The twist is that the ransom is not in the form of money, but the release of a man Leon had brutally beaten and arrested, and who was then banished to die of hard labor in a Siberian Gulag.
Though the book briefly raises the themes of family vs. state and humanity vs. personal survival, don't look for anything more than these being motivations to keep the main character preserving through one disaster after another. The read is more visceral than thoughtful. But after all, Tom Rob Smith, I think, is out to entertain us for a few hours and not to reveal moral lessons.
The plot is predictable, but in this case it is not a drawback. Like taking a rollercoaster ride, we know where we will end up, but it was a helluva of ride nevertheless. So it is with THE SECRET SPEECH. The characters serve the purpose of moving the story from action scene to action scene. The author keeps our interest by flinging us from the streets of Moscow to a prison ship tossed by a raging storm to a Siberian Gulag and finally to Hungary. This is definitely a book for those who enjoy fast paced thrillers.
Note: The first Leon Demidov book was optioned by film director Ridley Scott.
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