Child 44 (Smith)

Author Bio
Birth—February 19, 1979
Where—London, England
Education—B.A., Cambridge University
Currently—lives in London, England

After graduating from Cambridge University in 2001 and spending a year in Italy on a creative writing scholarship, Tom Rob Smith went to work writing scripts and storylines for British television. He lived for a while in Phnom Penh, working on Cambodia's first-ever soap opera and doing freelance screenwriting in his spare time.

While researching material for a film adaptation of a short story by British sci-fi writer Jeff Noon, Smith stumbled across the real-life case of "Rostov Ripper" Andrei Chikkatilo, a Russian serial killer who murdered more than 60 women and children in the 1980s. Chikkatilo's killing spree went unchecked for nearly 13 years, largely because Soviet officials refused to admit that crime existed in their perfect state. Intrigued, Smith recognized the potential of this concept as a work of fiction and worked up a script "treatment." His agent, however, suggested the material would be better showcased in a novel.

The result was Child 44, a gripping crime thriller about a Soviet policeman determined to stop a child serial killer his superiors won't even admit exists. Smith upped the action ante by setting the story in the Stalinist era of the 1950s, a period when opposing the state could cost you your life. And, in MGB officer Leo Stepanovich Demidov, he created the most fascinating Russian detective since Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko.

Child 44 became the object of an intense bidding war at the 2007 London Book Fair. (The buzz only increased when director Ridley Scott bought the film rights.) But the book proved worthy of its hype, garnering glowing reviews on its publication in the spring of 2008. Scott Turow (no slouch in the thriller department himself) proclaimed, "Child 44 is a remarkable debut novel—inventive, edgy and relentlessly gripping from the first page to the last."

From a 2008 Barnes and Noble interview:

• One of my first jobs was working in a sports complex, and I had to fill up all the vending machines. It was boring work and lonely, carrying boxes of Mars Bars down very long, fluorescent-lit corridors. But a moment sticks out. I was restocking a machine when a young boy, maybe five years old, approached me and asked if he could have a chocolate bar. I told him they were for sale: he needed to buy one. He thought about this very seriously for a while, ran off, and came back five minutes later with a conker [horse chestnut]. He honestly believed this was a fair exchange. I guess it must have had some value to him. Anyway, I gave him the chocolate bar for free. It wasn't mine, I suppose, to give away, but it made a dull day a little brighter."

• My Swedish grandparents used to be beekeepers. They made the best honey I've ever tasted. I spent my summer holidays living on their farm. It was a wonderful place to spend a summer. My parents, now retired, live on a small farm—a different farm—near the sea in the South of Sweden. So now I have another place to retreat from the world. They're not beekeepers though.

• I like running, although I suffer from a problem with my knees. They slide out of position, which has caused me some problems recently. If anyone out there can help, I'd be more than happy to hear suggestions. Hours of physiotherapy haven't really worked."

When asked what book that most influenced his life or career as a writer, here is what Smith said:

In terms of my career as a writer, I'm going to pick Robert Conquest's The Harvest of Sorrow. It played a crucial part in my decision to write Child 44.

Back in August 2005, all I had was a story outline. It was set in a period I didn't, in all honesty, know that much about. I remember walking into a book shop in Piccadilly and browsing the Russian History section. The prologue was set in the famines of the 1930s, so Conquest's book seemed an obvious purchase. Had the book been oblique or impenetrable, had the book not engaged me emotionally, I'm not sure I would've taken the plunge. As it happened, Conquest's book provided me with a jolt of energy. It's a remarkable read—brilliantly lucid, yet never clinical or detached. There's a cool-headed outrage at the events it describes.

It's one thing to have the broad brushstrokes of a story, but it was when tiny moments started to occur to me, that's when I knew I could write Child 44. It was while reading Conquest's descriptions of villages where all the dogs and cats had been eaten that I began to wonder if there had been someone who loved their cat so much that they couldn't bear to eat it—even when they were starving to death. That was how the character of Maria (from the opening paragraph) was born. (Author bio and interview from Barnes and Noble.)

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