Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
The main characters introduced in Smith's debut, Child 44, continue their ferocious saga to find love and consolation against a backdrop of the totalitarian Soviet state. In 1956, copies of Khrushchev's anti-Stalin speech are delivered to officials responsible for the purges and repressions, thus releasing a new round of murders and suicides. At the same time, a second plot twines with the first as ex-lovers from Child 44 grapple in a macabre contest of vengeance and hate. Smith has proven his brutal touch when describing human conflict. With this thriller, he offers a fierce account of fighting onboard a storm-wracked prison ship on the Sea of Okhotsk-a hair-raising scene, alone worth the cost of the book. For all popular collections; be ready for short-term demand owing to heavy promotion. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/09.]-Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Set in 1956, bestseller Smith's edgy second thriller to feature Leo Demidov (after Child 44) depicts the paranoia and instability of the Soviet Union after the newly installed Khrushchev regime leaks a "secret speech" laying out Stalin's brutal abuses. Now working as a homicide detective, Leo has long since repudiated his days as an MGB officer, but his former colleagues, fearful of reprisals from their victims, have begun taking their own lives. Leo himself becomes the target of Fraera, the wife of a priest he imprisoned. Now the leader of a violent criminal gang, Fraera kidnaps Leo's daughter, Zoya, and threatens to kill Zoya if Leo doesn't liberate her husband from his gulag prison. Shifting from Moscow to Siberia and to a Hungary convulsed by revolution, this fast-paced novel is packed with too many incidents for Smith to dwell on any in great depth. Though its drama often lacks emotional resonance, this story paints a memorable portrait of post-Stalinist Russia at its dawn. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
*Starred Review* Smith's stunning debut, Child 44 (2008), was long-listed for the 2008 Man Booker Prize. Now he's back, and so is his long-suffering, soulful, courageous hero, Leo Demidov. It's 1956, and Leo, heartsick over his dutiful work as an MGB (State Security) agent, which requires him to send innocent people to the gulag, wants only to love and support his wife, Raisa, and their two adopted daughters, Zoya and Elena. But Nikita Khrushchev's speech to the twentieth Communist Party Congress, criticizing Stalin's brutality and mandating reform, frees many former prisoners and starts a wave of brutal reprisals against Soviet bureaucrats. Leo and his family are prime targets of a driven, devious, and dangerous female gang leader, whose goal in life is to make Leo suffer more than she did. Her machinations lead Leo through the freezing sewers of Moscow to the gulag and on to Budapest, just as Soviet tanks are leveling it. As in Child 44, Smith's plotting is elaborate, and his pacing is relentless. His characters are wonderfully drawn, and the near-nonstop action is utterly gripping. Again, as in the earlier book, however, the author's greatest success is in personalizing the stunning tragedy and brutality of life for many millions of Russians. The Secret Speech is a harrowing novel, but everyone who loved Child 44 will leap to read it.--Gaughan, Thomas Copyright 2009 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
From Smith (Child 44, 2008), an intense thriller set in the Soviet Union during the tumultuous days that followed the death of Stalin. When Khrushchev delivered a speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, admitting to the paranoid excesses of his predecessor Stalin's regime, he did much to loosen the bonds of fear that kept Soviet society in line. However, in this novel, the speech also triggers a wave of vicious reprisals against secret policemen who were responsible for some particularly brutal acts during Stalin's reign of terror. Among those in danger is Leo Demidov, the reformed security officer with a conscience who tracked down a serial killer in Child 44. In order to redeem his brutal past, Leo has leveraged the official attention he received from catching the child killer to create a specialized homicide unit, something that would have been unthinkable under Stalin. After investigating the death of a former prison guard and having a conversation with a terrified former colleague who also winds up dead, Leo begins to put the pieces together, eventually realizing that those targeted are connected to the case of a dissident priest, a case to which Leo himself was intimately connected. When the danger expands to include the patchwork family Leo has been trying desperately to hold together, he must confront the terrible mistakes of his past to save his adopted daughter. Smith's ability to summon the paranoia and tumult of the post-Stalin period in all its dingy glory is truly astounding, as is his detailed knowledge of both the Soviet-era bureaucracy and its underworld. His characters, from the relentless Leo, to the petty criminals who populate the underworld, to a lonely guard aboard a frozen prison ship, are perfectly formed. His depiction of dismal Soviet society feels uncannily real, and his taut plot barrels onward like a loaded prisoner train headed for the Gulag. Finally, Leo is a fantastic creation: relentless, decent and wonderfully complicated. A superb thriller, full of pitch-perfect atmosphere. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.