Book Review: The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith

Secret Speech

Rating: 4.5 / 5

The year is 1956 and Stalin has died.  A secret speech by Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev has somehow leaked, and Stalin has posthumously been denounced as a tyrant, and change to the Soviet Union has been promised.  The tides have turned, and now police are seen as the criminals, and prisoners are victims.  Throughout the turmoil, Leo Demidov is trying to make his home life work.  He is still with his wife, Raisa, and they had opted to adopt Zoya and Elena instead of letting them languish in an orphanage.  Sisters Zoya and Elena are the daughters of man who Leo had a hand in killing.  Witnessing her parents’ murder, Zoya has yet to forgive Leo, instead harboring hatred and thoughts of revenge.  Elena was much younger when the tragedy occurred, and has adapted to Leo and Raisa. 

Years ago, when Stalin was still ruling the country, Leo, using the alias Maxim, befriended a priest, Lazar, and his wife Anisya.  Leo betrays the dissident priest, who is sent to the gulags along with Anisya, but years later, Anisya breaks free, and has set her sights on exacting revenge on Leo.  Becoming the first female leader of the vory, a brutal band of gangsters, Anisya changes her name to Fraera and kidnaps Zoya.  In exchange for Zoya’s return, Fraera demands that Leo rescue Lazar from the gulags.

The Secret Speech picks up right where Child 44 left off.  When I finished Child 44, I didn’t know Smith was going to take Leo, and was quite surprised with the twist of events.  One of the major themes of The Secret Speech is the journey and value of redemption.  During Stalin’s reign, Leo killed and sentenced hundreds of people to the gulags, whether or not that person was actually guilty of accused crimes.  But he now understands how his past actions were wrong, and has set himself on a path to redemption.  But is redemption possible, or were his crimes too heinous and prevalent to ever think he is capable of change?

I enjoyed The Secret Speech, but thought Child 44 was a tad bit better, though in all honesty, it is probably more because of the initial shock value of the bleak and paranoid existence dominant during that time.  Child 44 was the first novel I read set in this particular period, so I was probably more moved by that novel.  Like Child 44, you can tell Smith put in a lot of time researching the history, political crisis, and lives of those in the Soviet Union and Hungary in the mid 1950s. The emotional turmoil within Leo, Raisa, Zoya, and even Fraera were palpable.  While The Secret Speech wasn’t as action-packed as Child 44, I think it was much more dramatic and riveting than its predecessor.  I definitely recommend this book (after Child 44, of course), and can’t wait to get a chance to read the final installment, Agent 6.

The year is 1956 and Stalin has died.  A secret speech by Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev has somehow leaked, and Stalin has posthumously been denounced as a tyrant, and change to the Soviet Union has been promised.  The tides have turned, and now police are seen as the criminals, and prisoners are victims.  Throughout the turmoil, Leo Demidov is trying to make his home life work.  He is still with his wife, Raisa, and they had opted to adopt Zoya and Elena instead of letting them languish in an orphanage.  Sisters Zoya and Elena are the daughters of man who Leo had a hand in killing.  Witnessing her parents’ murder, Zoya has yet to forgive Leo, instead harboring hatred and thoughts of revenge.  Elena was much younger when the tragedy occurred, and has adapted to Leo and Raisa.

Years ago, when Stalin was still ruling the country, Leo, using the alias Maxim, befriended a priest, Lazar, and his wife Anisya.  Leo betrays the dissident priest, who is sent to the gulags along with Anisya, but years later, Anisya breaks free, and has set her sights on exacting revenge on Leo.  Becoming the first female leader of the vory, a brutal band of gangsters, Anisya changes her name to Fraera and kidnaps Zoya.  In exchange for Zoya’s return, Fraera demands that Leo rescue Lazar from the gulags.

The Secret Speech picks up right where Child 44 left off.  When I finished Child 44, I didn’t know Smith was going to take Leo, and was quite surprised with the twist of events.  One of the major themes of The Secret Speech is the journey and value of redemption.  During Stalin’s reign, Leo killed and sentenced hundreds of people to the gulags, whether or not that person was actually guilty of accused crimes.  But he now understands how his past actions were wrong, and has set himself on a path to redemption.  But is redemption possible, or were his crimes too heinous and prevalent to ever think he is capable of change?

I enjoyed The Secret Speech, but thought Child 44 was a tad bit better, though in all honesty, it is probably more because of the initial shock value of the bleak and paranoid existence dominant during that time.  Child 44 was the first novel I read set in this particular period, so I was probably more moved by that novel.  Like Child 44, you can tell Smith put in a lot of time researching the history, political crisis, and lives of those in the Soviet Union and Hungary in the mid 1950s. The emotional turmoil within Leo, Raisa, Zoya, and even Fraera were palpable.  While The Secret Speech wasn’t as action-packed as Child 44, I think it was much more dramatic and riveting than its predecessor.  I definitely recommend this book (after Child 44, of course), and can’t wait to get a chance to read the final installment, Agent 6.

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s