Familiar with the literary fiction versus genre fiction debate? It’s been running forever and a day, at the recent Christchurch Writers Festival dear Mark Billingham got quite vexed on the subject, he also name-checked Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith as a crime fiction title that had managed to span the great “high/low culture” divide and gain acclaim, most notably as a long-listed Man Booker nomination.
So how looking forward to that was I? Well, champing at the bit and how disappointed … massively. The early chapters were gripping, starting with Stalin’s forced famine in the Ukraine, the almost comical perversion of Communist ideology and the first of a number of grisly, heart rending murders but the central character Leo and his beautiful but aloof wife Raisa never came to life. After lots of frenetic racing around, dead-ends, red herrings and a bewilderingly enormous cast of characters, the final denouement was satisfying but a little Hollywood. In fact the book felt ready for a film treatment, Keira Knightley trout-pouting as Raisa and maybe her squeeze Rupert Friend as Leo Demidov, the handsome disillusioned war hero.
I think I’ll stick to Le Carre, Alan Furst or Robert Harris for energetic and emotive thrillers