The Secret Speech
By Tom Rob Smith
In 1956, former Soviet secret police agent Leo Demidov worked in secrecy. In an attempt to put his past with the MGB behind him, he works for secret homicide department. The department seeks the truth, regardless of what it might be.
Leo’s life begins to unwind when current and former members of the secret police are murdered and Khrushchev’s secret speech (admitting the wrongs of Stalin) is released. When one of his adopted daughters is kidnapped by the same individual responsible for the murders taking place throughout the city, Leo’s world falls apart.
Leo and his wife embark on a long journey to get their daughter back. From the gulags (forced labor camps) of the eastern USSR to revolutionary Hungary in the west, Leo embarks on a journey that he never imagined, taking the place of the victims he once arrested and sometimes fighting the state he works for.
Review: I picked up this book with no expectations. It was one of the few books left for $1 at my local Borders just days before it closed. I enjoy historical fiction and most novels set in Russia/the Soviet Union, so for a buck, I figured it was worth a shot.
As I began reading, I became engrossed in the story pretty quickly, in large part due to the point of view. The entire book was told from Leo’s perspective, the perspective of both a tormenter and a victim. Despite the frequent reminders of the atrocities committed while working for the secret police, I felt for Leo throughout his ordeals because I knew he was remorseful. He knew that everything he did while with the MGB was wrong and that there was no excuse for it. All he could do was try to make up for it with his actions in the present and the future.
There were two or three scenes while Leo was in the gulag that were difficult to read. It’s a strength of the book that Smith was able to make the reader want to stop reading, to look away because of his descriptions. Power through it though. It does pass (I was definitely worried that all 400 pages would be set in the gulag and I wouldn’t have the stomach to finish it!) and the story is great.