1.04.2014

The Child Thief, by Dan Smith

The Child Thief
Unlike most people who think about time travel, I don't make lists of places and times I would go. I make lists of places and times that would be the most dangerous to visit. The early 1930s in Ukraine is near the top of that list, shortly behind 1348 Europe. Dan Smith's The Child Thief shows us a Ukrainian village in the midst of the Soviet collectivization drive. Red Army soldiers are combing the countryside looking for kulaks and "counter-revolutionaries." They have the power to arrest or execute anyone. There's barely enough food to feed everyone. People are watching each other with suspicion, not knowing who is an informer or collaborator. Outsiders are to be feared.

The village of Vyriv has been overlooked by the Red Army so far, but everyone is dreading the moment when they are found. One day, in the middle of winter, an emaciated man pulling a sled with two dead children on it arrives. The man is so ill and exhausted that he doesn't have a chance to defend himself against accusations that he killed the two children. Before our protagonist, Luka Sidorov, can stop his fellow villagers, they have hanged the man from the tree in the middle of the village. That night, Luka's niece is kidnapped by the real child killer.

The Child Thief heaps tragedy after tragedy on Luka and his sons as they track the killer across their corner of the Ukraine. They have to fight the elements. The have to dodge roving Army patrols. On top of it all, they have to outsmart a killer that's hunting them. Just when you think things can't get any worse for Luka, they do.

The writing isn't perfect. There is just enough repetition to be noticeable. Luka's history is frequently recapped. His thought process is summed up much more often than it needs to be. Fortunately, the high tension plot redeems The Child Thief.

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