Friday, April 21, 2017
Review of The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith (2009, Pocket Books)
The Secret Speech is the second book in the Leo Demidov trilogy. After his exploits in Child 44, Demidov is now running a homicide division. He can’t break free of his MGB days, however. One of those he arrested and sent to the gulags is using the ‘Khrushchev thaw’, in which the new leader seeks reform and to the hard-line actions of the State, and their early release to target those responsible for their incarceration. Leo and his new family is top of the list for reprisals. Smith uses this revenge premise to construct a wider political thriller in which Leo, in order to save his family, becomes an unwilling participant in a larger plot. There’s certainly a lot going on in the tale, including a potted history of Khrushchev’s failed reforms, the savagery of the gulags, the parallel criminal underworld in the Soviet Union, and the crushing of the 1956 Hungarian rising, with Leo trying to navigate each to stay alive and rescue his kidnapped daughter. While there’s plenty of action and tension, the story becomes ever-more unbelievable as the tale progresses. Both the political thread and Leo’s quest become ragged, staged and driven by plot devices. Leo not only survives the first hundred pages or so, but somehow has ninety-nine lives despite the numerous life-threatening scrapes he finds himself in. The result is a Hollywood blockbuster that hides a tenuous plot with violence, melodrama, political intrigue, and a series of mini-cliffhangers.