The Secret Speech – Tom Rob Smith

Setting: Moscow, Siberia and Hungary. (Out of the cold, into the freezer.)

Story: It’s 1956 and Stalin, the bogeyman, is dead. Kruschev is trying to reform the USSR and, inevitably, there are factions resisting the changes. In the midst of this, the focus is on a former officer of the secret police, Leo, whose family are threatened by the avenging wife of someone he condemned years before. At the same time, trouble is brewing in Hungary. This is a cocktail of politics, plotting and violence.

Good Stuff: The background detail seems authentic. The plot rattles along without too much sentimental diversion, and key characters are killed off with nary a pause for reflection. The author conveys a dark, gothic, difficult struggle by one man and his family against the odds.

Not So Good Stuff: First, I must own up to the fact that I read this out of order. I should have read it before Agent 6, but didn’t. However, it turned out for the best, because this is not as good as Agent 6. There is less sympathy for Leo, and his character fails to convince. Further, the avenging wife’s story is equally unconvincing. It all came across as possible, but unlikely, and failed to dispel my sense of disbelief enough. The writing is good enough, but couldn’t patch over the gaps in my disbelief. Also, my feeling is that in this book the general quality of the characterization was not as sharp as Agent 6. (It was ok, but inferior.) So, in summary, it did not match the promise of Agent 6. And, having read it, I would advise other interested readers to skip it and go straight to Agent 6.

Score: 5.5/10