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November 13, 2008 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | November 13, 2008 |

Again, I don’t want to regurgitate Dustin’s review, since that’s what convinced me this was the book to read, but I want to add my hearty Holy Shit Go Read This to the pile.

A screenwriting professor once made the intriguing claim that Oedipus Rex was the first murder mystery/detective story. As a devotee of Poe, I wanted to scoff. But then he made a great case. Essentially, shit goes down in Oedipus’s kingdom, so one by one, he calls in witnesses to try to discover what the cause is, and how he can solve it. And as each one reveals something new, the story gets more harrowing and more horrible, until it comes crashing to its bitter finale. You try to find out who’s fucking with your family, only to discover that it was you. Literally fucking with your family.

Such is the case with Child 44. At its core, it’s a detective story, where one determined detective is out to solve a child’s murder. But what makes it so outstanding is that as more layers are added and peeled away, it becomes a devastating journey. Again, with a powerhouse opening. It takes place in Stalinist Russia, where an entire family is starving, and a woman lets her cat out of the house so she can hang herself in peace. A young boy spots the cat, and decides to hunt secretly, so that his family will have meat to survive. And this is least dark portion of the novel.

It uses the setting so well, setting boundaries and raising stakes by backdropping the novel against the regime of Stalin and the world of the secret police. How do you solve a mystery when the government doesn’t want it solved?

Child 44 gets more horrible and more difficult the farther it progresses. It becomes about survival and determination. It’s such a lesson to other writers in how to raise your stakes to the fullest. How many obstacles can you throw in the path of your protagonist before you completely destroy him?

It’s an amazing story, and well told for a first time novelist. I’m anxious to see what he comes up with for his second act.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here.

Cannonball Read / Brian Prisco

Books | November 13, 2008 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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