Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games Book 2) by Suzanne Collins

Katniss and Peeta have won the games, but their prize is the wrath of President Snow.  As unrest stirs in the districts, Snow makes it clear to Katniss that life as she knows it is over, and one false move means death for her and everyone she cares about.  But the pain is only starting when the "celebration" of the 75th annual games puts Katniss and Peeta in the Games for the second consecutive year--against other Games winners.  With her every move potentially a killer for those at home, is Katniss brave enough to defy the Capital and stay alive against the malice of the Snow and the deadly killers she's trapped with?  She's saved Peeta once, but doing it again might be tricky in the second book of the Hunger Games.

[Warning:  I do spoil some things here, which is unusual for me.  If you haven't read the books and want to, might be better to skip this.]

Ever tried to start a charcoal grill when it's windy?  No amount of paper or lighter fluid can help you.  It's going to take a long time to get those coals to catch, and you are liable to get extremely frustrated.  That is exactly how I felt about reading most of Catching Fire, whose title is extremely apt because the story takes about 200 pages to start getting interesting and for the fiery action to get started.

Oh sure, things happen in the first dozen or so chapters.  As with the first book, Collins is careful to explain everything and provide sufficient information so that no one can be the least bit puzzled.  The trouble is that the explanation is way too long and is even more infuriating this time, because it often takes all the suspense out of everything.  Just in case we weren't sure that there was resistance to the Capital, we get multiple pages showing us it's happening.  Just in case we weren't sure that those who help Katniss out in any way will be brutally tortured, we get not one but two instances of it.  Just in case we don't get that Katniss wants to save Peeta, Collins mentions it so many times I began to wonder if it was going to be plot point that Katniss saves herself instead.  Nope!

Now maybe I'm a bit harder to fool than most readers (I've been known to announce, mid-mystery book, "so and so did it" and be right over half the time), but a lot of the potential enjoyment I might have had out of the shock and surprise moments of Catching Fire were ruined because, for me at least, Collins was telegraphing them a mile away.  None of the big shocks, right up to the rushed reveal in the last chapter, were a surprise to me.  I called them like I was Minnesota Fats playing 8-ball for cash.

  • It's so obvious they're going to crack down on District 12, Gale's beating is inevitable, because she's not gonna harm Prim and Katniss' mom isn't doing anything illegal.
  • It's so obvious Cinna is planting defiance in Katniss' outfit from the line "I only hurt myself" that when he's taken away, it's a flat moment.
  • It's so obvious Haymitch has convinced the others to save Peeta and Katniss, because it happens so many times it's as obvious as the fact that Katniss and Peeta aren't going to die.
  • It's so obvious Johanna is saving a person she hates *I* start to hate Katniss' stupidity at not seeing it, too.
  • It's so obvious that Haymitch is scheming to take down the Capital from the moment you learn he survived the games by beating them at their own torture device that to learn there's a revolution awaiting at the end of the book is about as shocking as "there is no more District 12."

I'm really sorry if these things surprised you.  Maybe it's my fault as a reader.  Maybe I am expecting too much of a YA book.  But this book really feels like Collins is underestimating her audience.  Had she eased off on the clues or some something really out there, like keep Peeta dead, I might feel differently.

As it stands, the story is one-dimensional filler, with the most interesting parts being the diabolical creations made for the arena.  Collins is at her best when we're in the Games, and I really did think the idea of putting them in a giant circle, with conditions unfamiliar to Katniss, was a nice touch.  But then again, that's to force her to have partners, so it too, is a bit of a giant telegraph, as well as being a giant watch.  The fog was creepy and the jays calling out the tortured screams of friends and family was a nice touch.  Unfortunately, all of that was really crammed in the last 100 pages, which is a shame.  I'd have loved to see more terrors inflicted on the group.  When the characters talk about how "this is moving fast" they aren't kidding.  (Never ever let your character comment on your failings as an author.  That's a softball for any reader not enjoying themselves.)

Unlike Book 1, this volume really comes to a screeching halt, using a one-page summary of events (I kid you not) to get the reader up to speed, looking very much like plotting notes typed up and formalized and placed at the end of the book.  I'm sorry, that's lazy, sloppy writing and no editor should ever have let that pass.  It read like a comic book recap page, but instead of being helpful to anyone who came in late, it's there to tell someone who has been with the book all along what they missed while Katniss was being incredibly clueless.

I mentioned in my first review that I didn't care for Katniss as the focal character, and she's even worse here. She just acts like there isn't a brain in her head for thinking instead of acting.   Katniss can't see past the nose on her face, which is infuriating because it means Collins has to keep everything from the reader, too.  I'd have found this book a lot more interesting from Haymitch's perspective, and we could use the video of the Games to handle that section.  I get that Collins is trying to show that a girl can be the protagonist, but that's only if she's interesting.

Katniss is about as interesting as plain brown wallpaper.

Despite these problems, I do applaud Collins for trying to show some feminist tendencies in a teen character.  Unfortunately, rather than being proactive, Katniss is a reactive feminist.  "I don't want this" is fine, as she rejects the Capital, rejects the roles Gale and Peeta have for her, and rejects Haymitch for using her.  But what exactly is Katniss for?  I sure don't know.  I don't know that she does, either, and that part of why her character is lacking.  The others, who know what they want, from Snow to Cinna to even the Career tributes, are a lot more interesting as a result.

So why do The Hunger Games have so many problems?  I think I figured it out, and it didn't hit me until this book closed with the destruction of District 12:  Hunger Games is "What if Star Wars Featured Leia?"

Now, it's not fan fiction in the way that I understand 50 Shades of Gray to be.  But the concepts are extremely familiar:  A one-dimensional hero that doesn't so much fight FOR something as against it, a love triangle between a strong female and two men who are diametric opposites on the surface but are both good at the core, a ruling class that is far more technologically advanced than its citizens--except for the resistance, an unlikely alliance among disparate factions, a leader who will destroy entire planets districts to prove a point, side-character who are far more interesting than the main ones, an enigmatic mentor, and so on.

Collins is borrowing liberally from George Lucas's themes, and once I figured it out, I hit on exactly why I don't care for this story:  The more I watched Star Wars, the less I liked it.  Why would a giant tribute to that movie franchise be any different?

At first, I thought the homage to Leia and Han with Katniss' "I know" was just bad writing.  Now I see that it's part of a larger theme, which means nothing is going to get more complex or ambiguous.  The bad guys are the bad guys, the good guys are the good guys, and we'll wrap it up with hope for the future.

That's my problem with the Hunger Games.  At its core, there's no struggle, no realization that life lives in shades of gray.  I need the Roddenberry ambiguity when I read an epic story like this, and it's just not there. This book doesn't leave me fired up, it leaves me like that charcoal pit in the wind:  waiting for something to show signs of life.

Going into book three, I admit, I'm not hopeful.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Hunger Games (Book 1) by Suzanne Collins

In a dystopian United States that's been turned into districts, with a cruel capital where none with power go without, a reminder that resistance is futile happens every year: The Hunger Games.  Two teens are chosen from each district and must battle to the death to survive.  Katniss volunteers to fight to save the life of her baby sister, and eventually she's placed in a battlefield with a set of allies she's not sure she can trust, up against districts that plan to win every year.  Can Katniss survive this brutal torture, and what happens if she does?

Welcome to the series of books that completely derailed the Summer of YA.  I was warned I probably wouldn't like them, and boy were all of you right.  As I write this review, I'm about halfway through book two--and I finished book one back in June.  For the purposes of this review, I'm only going to discuss book one.

First, let me talk about what I like about this book.

  • Part of why I think it's important is that it serves as a sort of anti-Twilight.  Instead of teaching young women that they should be passive and allow men (especially older men) dominate them, Katniss is a fiery spirit, doing what *she* thinks is best and refusing to allow others to tell her what to do.  Sometimes this gets her in trouble, especially when it comes to the climax of this first volume.  But the fact that at no time does Katniss give in to the males in this world (although she learns that she does not have to do everything alone) is very important.  Like it or not, kids take ideas from the culture they're exposed to.  They internalize things.  While I am glad teens are reading 600 page novels, I do worry quite a bit about what's *inside* those novels.  The Hunger Games may not be the best written thing I've ever read, but its message is a good one, for both young women and young men.
  • Once we get into the games themselves, this book actually flows relatively well.  The scenes within the games are action-packed, and I like the fact that Collins was not afraid to hurt her two main characters and give me the impression right up until the very end that they could die.  Similarly, anyone who the reader might care about could also get the ax at any moment.
  • The sadism of the Hunger Games themselves comes across very well.  From the opening dash for supplies to the placement of water only in such a way that the fighters must battle to keep it to the ending, where the losers of the game are brought back in a horrific manner that actually terrified me just a bit, Collins does a really nice job of showing just how awful this is.
  • There's a clear indication that a deep divide in wealth is not only disgusting, but it's a moral wrong.  I know my politics are on my sleeve with this one (and the next point), but the fact is, while we don't make poor people battle for the right to have food for a year--yet--the Capital is not that far off from how the uber-rich live in this country while people in the streets try to scrape along, with costs rising and jobs growing ever more scarce.  I know Collins based the Capital on Rome, but the decadence of the Roman elite is not any different from hearing about movie stars and politicians with multiple homes and a dozen bathrooms and other things that make me want to puke when I have students who can't afford a meal but don't qualify for reduced lunch.
  • Katniss wants control of her body.  Collins may not refer to reproductive rights directly, but it's clear there's an allusion to it if you read carefully.  Katniss dislikes having the designers try to make her look more feminine, is horrified that they wanted to give her implants, and talks about how she does not want to bring kids into the world, even if that's what is expected of her.  Showing that these decisions should be up to Katniss and not the (male) power structure is another thing I liked.
So that's good stuff, right?  Well, unfortunately, there's also one heck of a lot that's wrong, and I just can't get past them to make this a book I'd re-read.  Over time, they're making it so I can barely finish the trilogy.
  • The opening is one of the worst I've ever read.  I know that there's a desperate fight for life, but it's 130 pages (out of 370) before I get there.  That's just too damned long.  I understand the need to world-build (but that has its issues, see below), but Collins is pedantic and methodical in her approach, working slowly until we get to the good stuff.  I probably would have given up, except that I really wanted to know this book inside and out before teaching again, so we can discuss it in class.
  • The book is written like she's reading over my shoulder.  Countless times, Collins takes pains to explain *exactly* how something is possible or how it works.  It's like she's afraid I might not believe part of the narrative if every set-up is not given careful detailing in advance.  Yes, in some cases, we do need to know information for a payoff later, but she does it way too much.  It feels like she wants to be there to say, "See?  I told you all about the changing environment so you'd never question when it happens later!  Isn't that great?"  Given the wonders we have in the Hunger Games world, I think I would have bought that--and many other--ideas she painstakingly explains.
  • Despite all this explanation, there are two problems that just sink the book for me.  Issue one is that her characters are less fleshed out than the world is.  I just don't care about Katniss.  She's boring.  She's Cyclops when I want to read about Wolverine.  She's Hal Jordan instead of Guy Gardner or John Stewart.  To move to a literary comparison, she's Harker instead of Van Helsing.  Katniss is portrayed as having only one major flaw, which is that she doesn't always think long-term.  That's boring.  She's not selfish, jealous, funny, or anything that could get me to care.  That goes double for Gale, which makes the love triangle fall flat as a pancake.  I spent most of the games worrying more for Peeta, who shows a depth of character that Katniss lacks.  I know Katniss is the narrator, so we learn less about her directly, but she's so much of a blank slate here (we know more of what she doesn't want than what she does) that it hurts the book.
  • The biggest flaw, however, is that despite all the explanations, this world just doesn't hold up on its face.  The Capital has everything it could ever want, which it gets from the districts.  Okay, I am down with that so far.  But the level of tech they have is just impossible.  America is back to the 19th Century everywhere BUT the Capital.  That's fine, I got it.  The problem is that the Capital is not only modern, it's futuristic.  There's no reference to anyone making transistors or computer chips in one of the districts--which would be a must if the Capital even matched 21st Century tech.  Yet somehow, these people have showers not even Bill Gates can design or own that will change on command.  They can terraform at will.  They can make a package appear in the middle of nowhere and broadcast movies in the sky.  These people have miniature flying saucers yet we're told they have to have coal from District 12.  It just doesn't add up.  Despite all of Collins' explanations, there's no explaining how the tech is so high if the regions supporting the non-working Capital are providing raw material only.
I am a person with a low bar for suspension of disbelief.  I read comic books, where irradiated spiders don't kill the people they bite.  But there has to be an internal logic within whatever crazy stuff you're asking the reader to go along with.  I know that Collins wanted to show how opulent the Capital was, but she takes it too far.  Every time something uber-technological happened, I was thrown right out of the book trying to figure out how in the hell it was possible based on the resources known to me as the reader.

Maybe that's something the last two books will explain, but I kinda doubt it, based on my reading of book two so far.  While I am happy kids are reading and while I know there is YA material that works for teens and adults, The Hunger Games just isn't that kind of book.  It's fine as a surface read, but when you start to think too hard, it falls apart quickly.  (Maybe that's why, in a disposable culture, the book succeeds.  No one else but me is examining it out.)  Since it reads so slowly, it invites thinking--and when you think too hard, there's just a whole host of problems.  If you haven't read the Hunger Games by now, don't.  You aren't missing anything.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer of YA

After spending two years teaching middle school and having it look like that will be continuing for the foreseeable future, I decided that I needed to get better acquainted with the books that my students are reading.  I fully admit that my YA knowledge is quite limited, and that needs to be corrected so that I can be better informed of what my students like to read.

I will be honest, YA has never been a genre I've been overly fond of, even when I was the target demographic.  Once I left children's books behind, I jumped to non-fiction and left fiction behind.  I read a few of the required classics here and there, but for the most part, if I was reading for pleasure, it was either non-fiction or adult fiction (Tom Clancy, Tony Hillerman, etc.) that my mother approved for me.  Even then, and to this very day, I read fairly little prose fiction.  (But I do read a comic book or two.)

So I vowed that this will be the summer of YA--my goal is to read at least one a week before the year starts and then read at least two a month going forward, to get myself better acquainted with the genre.  I'm starting with the books I will be teaching this year as well as the Hunger Games and I hope to do at least short reviews here as I go along.

I'd love suggestions, but please make sure they are on the low-end of the YA scale.  Things for high-school won't help me or anything that really has strong adult and/or controversial themes.

Sometime soon, my reviews will kick off with thoughts on the first book of The Hunger Games.  See you then!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stealing the General by Russell S. Bonds

The Civil War is barely a year old.  The great and terrible battles to come in places like Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Petersburg have yet to happen.  It is a time of hope, in a funny sort of way, because there is a belief that the war can still be ended quickly, if only a bold stoke against the Confederacy is struck.

Enter James Andrews and one ambitious plan.

This book is the story of Andrews and his raiders, a band of twenty four men who volunteers for what was effectively a spy mission, despite later denials by the participants.  Selected from the ranks of General Mitchell, a man who thought bigger than his manpower could handle, they infiltrated the southern lines through a Kentucky cover story and before anyone knew it, had stolen an engine, with the idea of destroying rail bridges and cutting the Confederacy in half.

It was an amazing plan.  It also ended badly for eight of the participants, including Andrews.

Dogged by bad luck and the determination of one railroad man (Captain Fuller), the raiders are all captured, and the story of their survival (or death) is as heroic as any story in the Civil War.  In the process, most of the Raiders would be the first to receive the most prestigious award in the United States:  The Medal of Honor.

In this gripping and engaging narrative,. Bonds digs deep into a story that has mostly faded from the annals of Civil War history.  I consider myself to be more knowledgeable about the Civil War than most people, and all I knew of this raid was that it was yet another failed Union scheme without much consequence.  Bonds shows that, in context, the raid had a powerful effect on both the North and the South, and while it was doomed to failure almost from the start, its impact was lasting.

Taking the time to set the stage and show the problems in the Western theater during early 1862, Bonds describes the command failures of generals such as Buell and the intra-army jostling for position and prominence.  This is the story not just of the Andrews Raiders, but of their commander, General O.M. Mitchell, whose fate would be to serve as an Icarus figure, who strove for the sun, burned his wings, and paid the price, dying in a departmental backwater of yellow fever.  It is also the story of a deluded Confederacy, that constantly underestimated the raiders and was shocked that any Union troops could penetrate so far into their territory.  It was a lesson they'd learn far more painfully in 1864, as Sherman took the same ideas that Andrews and Mitchell had, but used sufficient force to get the job done.  Sherman's strike into the heart of the Confederacy was not unlike that of Mitchell--he just had roughly ten times the number of soldiers.

In addition to showing the grand scale, Bonds does an amazing job of using whatever first person accounts are available to detail the story of the raiders and the "great locomotive chase" giving an intimate picture of the story of the soldiers as they braved the rain to make it to the locomotive, their desperate ride on the rails and the many, many choices they faced before ultimately being captures.  Hindsight is 20/20, but looking at the options shown by Bonds, it is clear that Andrews was in over his head once the chase got started, relying on bluffs to get by when force may have been needed.

The book's most difficult sections are the descriptions of the Southern prisons that the raiders must endure and the hypocritical court martial that leads to the death of Andrews and seven of the raiders.  While the South regularly sent men north to do the same thing that Andrews and his men attempted, they acted as though the soldiers had committed an act of violence so heinous, that only death by hanging was appropriate.  The North gave similar Southern prisoners the rights of soldiers.  The South denied these men the same courtesy.  It's yet another nail in the coffin of the myth of Confederate "honor" if you ask me.  Bonds is more neutral, but to me, the way the raiders were treated was barbaric.

After several attempts, eight of the Raiders managed to escape and those still behind bars were eventually given their proper status as prisoners of war.  Many of these men returned to serve in the Union Army once more, even participating in Sherman's March to the Sea, an irony not lost on them, I'm sure.  Before this happens, however, several of them become part of a hallowed tradition, receiving the Medal of Honor.  Bonds speaks briefly, in one of his many, but useful digressions about the award and its history, leading up to the current day.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is the conflicting accounts given by some of the participants.  Bonds is clear when he's suspicious of a narrative and does not hesitate to state that he believes something to be false.  He also tries, wherever possible, to show both sides of a story where the raiders (or their jailers) disagree on a particular point.  The main chroniclers of the raid, Corporal (later Reverend) Pittinger and Captain Fuller, had axes to grind as they tried to make themselves look better than they probably were.  It's a pitfall of many autobiographical works, and Bonds acknowledges that fact.  However, given the spotty records of the time and the early deaths of many of those involved, such as General Mitchell and the hanged Andrews, sometimes these biased accounts are all that the author can use.

In the end, the Andrews Raiders probably could not have managed to bring down the Confederacy, even if they had managed to get their stolen train back to Union lines.  Mitchell simply did not have the manpower, and his immediate superior had no desire to help his presumptuous subordinate.  Their story, however, is no less amazing for its futility.  This is a great book for Civil War enthusiasts looking to go deeper than just  reading about the major battles.  Bonds is an excellent writer in addition to being a solid, fact-based historian.  If you want to learn about one of the most fascinating raids of the war and a story of determination, you can do no better than to read this book.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith

I was a huge fan of Tom Rob Smith's debut novel, Child 44.  I thought it was a great suspense novel, doing just about everything right.

That's why I was horribly crushed when I read this book, and found that it did just about everything wrong, from the book blurb to the pacing to the dialog, particularly the internal monologues.

Generally speaking, I don't tend to write about books I did not care for, as I only have a certain amount of time to write, and why talk about things you don't think others should read?  But in this case, I'm making an exception because I really had a lot of strong thoughts on this one, driven primarily by my disappointment, given Child 44 was one of my favorite books from a few years ago.

Let's start with the book blurb and the problems it creates for the book itself.  The blurb spoils all sense of surprise by stating baldly that Leo's family is "destroyed" and he must seek revenge.  Way to spoil things for me--and anyone else reading it.  Now there's no surprise involved in what's going to happen--a major part of a suspense novel.  I'm not in suspense anymore, because I know that Leo's going to be driven by a tragedy.

If you're going to do that, fine, but that means it's essential that the book get to that point and show Leo, the protagonist, on a mad revenge spree that takes up the majority of the book.

Unfortunately, that's not what happens.  The tragedy is withheld until almost halfway through the book, leaving the characters as dead people walking.  I kept waiting for something, anything to happen, and was disappointed over and over again.  By the time the tragedy does happen, it's underplayed, with almost no drama involved.  It was about as matter of fact as giving the weather, and while I was sad for the characters involved, I wasn't given a body blow.

What took so long?  Well, in what became a disturbing trend for the book, Smith opts to spend pages upon pages to give his political spin on the politics in both Russia and the United States during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.  Unlike in Child 44, where these moments were tied crucially to what was happening in the narrative, such as trying to hide in the shadows of the Soviet State or the desire to avoid actual crime, this book goes off on tangents again and again.  I don't think a dissertation on the racist, homophobic, and classist nature of Hoover's FBI added anything to the book, especially since there's no payoff for it.  A short passage, sure.  But pages and pages of comments and examples?  This happens over and over in the first section of the book, and it really dulled the impact of the action.

I had high hopes once we got to the main event, as Leo was proven to be a character of great resolve.  Time to see him break a conspiracy to the State--and his family!--one more time.


Instead, Smith makes one of the worst mistakes an author can do--he tells instead of shows.  Leo's post-tragedy actions are either glossed over or given a short flashback piece, and the next thing we know, he's a drug-addled fop living off his reputation in Afghanistan.  How did he come to this?  What broke him?  That's only worth a few dozen pages, because instead Smith needs to describe in detail the problems of Soviet-controlled Afghanistan so he can beat the reader over the head with a comparison to the situation in the troubled nation today.  It's obvious that Smith thinks that being in Afghanistan is wrong, but instead of using his name to write a non-fiction book or essays, he's thinly disguised his opinion in this narrative, dragging it down even further.

As we stop by every bullet point Smith wants to hit in his tour of Afghanistan, Leo is pushed to the side in favor of a paper-thin antagonist in the form of a ruthless Soviet Captain and a young Afghan woman who gives up her family for the Communist cause.  They talk about everything from the difficulty of an occupation to killing civilians to the major misogyny of a society where woman are treated poorly, even when they could serve as a national rallying cry.  We get this instead of, say, Leo's daring attempt to escape the Soviet Union or his search for the man who deceived his adoptive daughter.

Long paragraphs about religious fervor or the deadly determination of those using terror to take their country back are far more interesting that the intrigue of slipping across a border, you see.

The topper for this is that when we do get any action sequences, Leo's barely involved.  He might get a few good lines here and there, but most of it is instinct, not daring do, as we saw before.  I get that Leo's supposed to be a broken man, but because we didn't *see* the break, I'm not impressed or in agreement.  This isn't Leo for me, this is some other man.  Had Smith taken the time to show me why Leo is so impotent, I might have swallowed it better, but the few lines thrown in and the sketchy backstory didn't do it for me.  As a result, I'm left waiting and waiting for Leo to show himself.

The whole Afghanistan sequence is a big political screed that seems to paint most of Afghanistan as a country best left alone to its fanatics (there are no moderates shown, as the outliers are all quickly killed or given flimsy reasons like love for their challenging the accepted paradigms), as though the people there could never be as good as Westerners.  In trying to show why fighting in Afghanistan is a bad idea, Smith makes the people there seem like savages.  It's really sad, actually, because I don't think that was the intent.  However, I don't see anything that counters that view of the Afghan people.

Through a huge coincidence, we get Leo back to America for the climax of the story.  He's a bit better here, being devious and active again, and back on track.  Leo turns over every rock he can to get to the truth of the tragedy, once and for all.  The key is a character we saw early on, which is a good sign.  I was ready for the big finish...except it wasn't.

In the end, the tragedy's payoff is that it's so minor.  Something so important to Leo has almost no value to the State or anyone else.  He and his family are just one more statistic, which I could have accepted, except that it took so long to get there, having the ending peter out like this, with Leo getting answers but not satisfaction, really bothered me.  I needed it to be huge, to justify all the pages of padding we got to get there.  Instead, I had an answer that really did not require most of the hundreds of pages to tell.  Almost all of it--including the entire Afghanistan digression--was unnecessary, because the truth was already told.

By the end of the story, Leo is defeated, his last card played.  He limps to the finish, in chains, at the mercy of those who have no need to show it.  It's a metaphor for the book itself, which meanders across the world but never manages to excite the reader.  The book doesn't really finish, it ends.  Neither Leo nor I am entirely happy with what's at the end of this road, and that's a big problem for me as a reader.  I should be feeling like I had a big payoff, but instead, I just felt cheated.  The only suspense was "When is this over?" and had I not committed myself too far by the time I got to the tragedy, I'd have given up on this one and probably been the better for it.

I highly recommend Child 44, but stay far away from this extremely political book that has a loose story around it.  Regardless of my agreement with Smith's views on racial and class issues, a book of fiction must stand on its own merits as a story.  This one falls on its face, as futile as Leo's life becomes for the bulk of the story.  A suspense novel needs to keep me guessing and keep me on the edge of my seat.  This one had me frustrated, bored, and angry.  I though I had a new author to follow but after this, I think I will pass.  You should, too.