Book Title: THE SECRET SPEECH
Author: Tom Rob Smith
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
No of Pages: 449
The Soviet Union 1956: after Stalin's death, a violent regime is beginning to fracture. It leaves behind a society where the police are the criminals, and the criminals are innocent. Stalin's successor Khrushchev pledges reform. But there are forces at work that are unable to forgive or forget the past.
Leo Demidov, former MGB officer, is facing his own turmoil. The two young girls he and his wife Raisa adopted have yet to forgive him for his part in the brutal murder of their parents.
THE SECRET SPEECH is the second book from Tom Rob Smith, following on the stories of many of the characters from CHILD 44. In particular, Leo and Raisa are trying to raise the two young girls they adopted after Leo's part in the brutal killing of their parents, but all is not going well with this instant family. Pressure from within, the eldest girl in particular, is deeply resentful of both her adopted parents and is prepared to show it in quite threatening and frightening ways, whilst they are unaware of the level of vengeance about to be visited on them by somebody else from Leo's past.
CHILD 44 was one of those books when it was released - huge fanfare, lots of publicity and noise, so it was pleasing that the book held up to scrutiny very well. After a slow beginning, I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately I didn't quite get the same reaction with THE SECRET SPEECH. The worst thing is I'm not 100% sure why, it just didn't quite click into place.
Perhaps what worked for me in CHILD 44 was the feeling of an entire society on the brink, whilst in THE SECRET SPEECH the threat was closer to home, a family on the brink. To pull that sort of storyline off, you have to have some sympathy or even understanding of those individuals involved, and I'm not sure I ever quite got that feeling. Perhaps it was also the setting / timeline in which the book takes place. As in CHILD 44, THE SECRET SPEECH is woven into true events - the lead-up to the 1956 uprising in Hungary. Maybe part of the problem was that it seemed like the family situation was being driven into the events, there was less a feeling of natural inevitability about it all. Perhaps it is also that whilst CHILD 44 left me with a desire to know more about the true events, THE SECRET SPEECH didn't. There wasn't quite the same feeling of immediacy, of tension, threat or even reality. In some ways you sort of felt like you were floating over the action, waiting for the inevitable, not quite believing in anybody along the way.
THE SECRET SPEECH wasn't a dire read though, and to be fair, following on from CHILD 44 was going to be a tricky undertaking. Just because THE SECRET SPEECH didn't quite hit all the heights I'd (probably unreasonably) hoped for, Smith's writing is good, and his research extensive, so I will certainly still be picking up for the next book.