The Farm (2014) by Tom Rob Smith is an incredibly well-crafted novel with excellent suspense and is an absolutely engrossing read.
This book is set between England and Sweden and follows the story of the main character Dan who is caught in a very difficult situation where he must decide whether he believes his mother’s account that something wasn’t right about a 16-year-old girl Mia’s disappearance near the farm in Sweden where she and his father are now living or his father’s account that his mother is ill and doesn’t know what she is talking about. The set up of this story is pretty masterful because a lot of readers including me will instantly feel so sorry for Dan being caught in this situation and knowing that no matter who he places his trust in, he is letting down one of his parents.
I love Dan or Daniel to his parents as a character. He’s my favourie character. He is so realistic and easy to relate to that you really feel his pain as this ordinary lad thrown into this extraordinary situation. We also get a great insight into his life in which he was sheltered from much unpleasantness as a child like his parents fighting and how his mother used to read fantasy troll stories to him. Now grown up, his happy childhood has ensured that he can experience love and happiness with his boyfriend who he lives with Mark. But he hasn’t told his parents that he is gay or about Mark and over the years the secrets have helped ensure that he is not as close with his parents as he once was. Career-wise he is also trying to find his way in the world. Alongside Dan, his mother Tilde really drives the story forward. The story is told between Dan’s point of view in the present day and his mother’s diary from when the events were taking place.
This story is simply splendid. I found it gripping all the way through and it is a great mystery. I didn’t work it out and had a completely innocent nice person down as being involved. This book is mystery mixed with human emotions and psychology and family dynamics risen to new heights. It’s incredible. A masterclass. The way it is weaved so seamlessly together is amazing and a lot of important issues are dealt with in this book like child abuse and depression. The intricate nature of each part of the puzzle just ends up fitting so well together and never seems contrived.
An excellent read. Very hard to put down.
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The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith is the action-packed follow-up to Child 44. Based in Russia in the 1950s, it is set soon after the fall of Stalin. Three years have went by since the first book and Stalin has died. The protagonist Leo Demidov is trying to be a good father to his two daughters and a good other half to his wife Raisa. He now is at the helm of his own homicide department and is trying to put his past of torturing behind him. This makes him a very complex protagonist.
Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor, compiles The Secret Speech in order to distance the new regime from the violence of the former period. The speech is supposedly supposed to be secret but is leaked throughout Russia causing many of Stalin’s former henchmen to feel incredibly exposed and unsafe. It is rumoured that some senior officials have had heart attacks or committed suicide following the reveal of the speech. Demidov is a former loyal follower and servant of the regime and one of his victims who was sent to prison for seven years comes back to seek revenge.
The book has a very quick pace and is based on the time leading up to the 1956 uprising in Hungary. The process of de-Stalinization is underway and following the speech two separate entities are central in book: on one side the vory and on the other side the state’s torturers and killers. The vory start a campaign against those who helped uphold Stalin’s rule. Demidov was three years with the secret police and was responsible for sending hundreds of people to the gulags, the torture chambers and the executioner. He now has turned over a new leaf and lives with his wife Raisa and his daughters Zoya and Elena in Moscow. Raisa and Leo adopted Zoya and Elena after Leo sent their birth parents to their death. Elena is the youngest and she has settled into the family, the eldest Zoya on the other hand hasn’t. She harbours thoughts of revenge and stands over Leo while he is asleep holding a knife wishing she could kill him.
Meanwhile Fraera, the vory leader who was imprisoned by Leo seven years earlier, also has revenge on her mind towards both Leo and his family. Leo had sent her husband and her to the gulag in the past. She tells him that she “was nothing until I hated you.” She kidnaps Zoya. Zoya becomes a member of the vory going on missions with a young guy called Malysh and they fall in love.
The book has a huge theme in second chances and the follower mentality of human nature. Personally I couldn’t get past the evilness in Leo’s past and the following orders thing didn’t make me feel any different about him and I didn’t particularly like him but not every central character has to be likable in books. My favourite character was Raisa and I also liked the romance between Zoya and Malysh.
Described as “brilliant (Chicago Tribune), “remarkable” (Newsweek) and “sensational” (Entertainment Weekly) I would have to agree. A wonderfully crafted book by a very talented writer.