Tom Robb Smith’s The Secret Speech has all the hall marks of the typical thriller – it’s fast, action packed and full of characters who move across its vast stage – Hungary, Moscow, Siberia. If that’s what you want then this book is as good as any, despite the incredible nature of some of the events and characters and the trite and predictable ending.
The Secret Speech is set in Russia after the death of Stalin. Kruschev has just denounced his predecessor and there are admissions that the state has tortured and imprisoned innocent citizens. The novel revolves around Leo, a former agent of Stalin’s repressive regime who has attempted to step away from the atrocities by adopting the children of a former victim and opening a homicide department where the police really do police work, rather than acting as agents of state terror.
The publication of Kruschev’s “secret speech” unleashes a series of reprisals that are really at the heart of this book; the vory, Russian gangsters, become the ticking bomb at the centre of the story which encompasses some incredible encounters and escapes, and some improbable characters, notably the female gangster, former wife of a Russian Orthodox priest, who wreaks bloody revenge on all and sundry. The visit to a Russian gulag is one of the most improbable episodes involving hairbreadth escapes and derring do, though some of the characters here do show elements of humanity.
This type of book isn’t really for me, but the fact that I read it to the end and almost shed a tear when I got there indicates that of its kind it’s pretty good. If that’s what you like, who am I to deny you? (You might want to cross-reference my review of Stephen King’s 22/11/63 at this point.)