Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith, begins with a flashback to the great famine of the Ukraine in 1933. It’s winter and 2 young boys are barely alive, hunting a cat. But the hunters become the hunted, and only one returns home. 20 years later, we meet Leo, an ambitious and conscientious MGB officer, charged with protecting Stalin‘s post-war Soviet Union, mostly from it’s own citizens. Since there can be no crime in the worker’s state, Leo has trouble with what becomes an increasing pile of bodies. But a serial killer can not exist in a perfect society, can he? Excellent reviews, and Ridley Scott has already optioned the movie rights.
Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris opens as Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s lightning attack on Russia, is commencing. In Lithuania, Hannibal is 6 when Count Lecter’s family flees to their hunting lodge deep in the forest. They manage to evade the Nazi invaders for three years, but then comes the terrible winter of 1944-45.
“When the Eastern Front collapsed, the Russian Army rolled like lava across Eastern Europe, leaving behind a landscape of smoke and ashes, peopled by the starving and the dead. From the east and from the south the Russians came, up toward the Baltic Sea from the 3rd and 2nd Belorussian Fronts, driving ahead of them broken and retreating units of the Waffen-SS, desperate to reach the coast where they hoped to be evacuated by boat to Denmark. It was the end of the [collaborators] ambitions. After they had faithfully killed and pillaged for their Nazi masters, [….. ] none of them got to be SS. They were called Osttruppen, and were barely considered as soldiers. Thousands were put in slave labor battalions and worked to death. But a few deserted and went into business for themselves.”
A beautiful work, but you must disregard previous incarnations of Harris’ famous character, Hannibal Lecter. Hey- it’s fiction- Once I got over the inconsistencies, I loved the book, especially as it is read on audio by the author. Child 44 and Hannibal Rising both deal with the extreme psychologies of deprivation, war, and evil, and the search for human love and moral meaning despite a chaotic universe.