When I was a child, I loved reading mystery and detective stories.

At the beginning, I hung out with Jupe, Pete and Bob late into the night all the time. There was also Enid Blyton and her group of little friends who called themselves “The Secret Seven“, and let’s not forget Julian, Dick, Anne, Georgina and their dog Timmy.

As I approached adolescence, I thought that Sherlock Holmes was the coolest hero and tagged along with Watson and him as they investigated grotesque murders and discussed their cases at 221B Baker Street. Occasionally I would sit with Miss Marple or try to imagine what Poirot‘s little grey cells were up to.

Somewhere along the way, I got distracted.

There were boys and men. Foreign lands with mountains peaks in the clouds piqued my curiosity while chaotic streets called for attention from all directions. Then there was work, which was almost all-consuming for a few years.


Happy to say that I have a better work-life balance nowadays and have more time to read. I probably bought and read more books in the last two years than I did in the last decade (excluding textbooks).

AB built a bookshelf for my apartment to house the growing piles of books (mostly mine) and CDs (mostly his) that had sprouted over the former fireplace.

What stands out in this photo are three books with huge red font plastered on the spine: Child 44, The Secret Speech and Agent 6.

Written by Tom Rob Smith, this trilogy revolves around Leo Demidov, a dedicated Soviet Union secret police turned homicide detective/renegade/devoted father – depending on which part of the books you’re at.

I like how Smith delves into the history of the Soviet Union and explores the communist state, its people and their ‘enemies’ through his brilliant storytelling. There are many twists and turns, including some incredulous situations bordering on absurdity. But, hey, this is fiction, so anything is possible.

Fortunately, a lot of research went into the writing of these books to provide it with a layered, complex background of the times during and after Stalin’s rule. Some of the events and characters were inspired by real-life situations and people.

DIY bookshelf01k64crop

My nail-biting adventures with Leo began with Child 44, which was inspired by serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo. I finished the book in one sitting.

The grim circumstances under Stalin’s rule described in Child 44 left a deep impression. This was further reinforced by Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – which I bought after reading Child 44 and strongly recommend.

I found The Secret Speech in a secondhand bookshop and was swept through the gulags in Siberia and the violent Hungarian uprising in 1956. While it was an entertaining read, I thought that it fell short of the subtlety, suspense and intrigue of its predecessor.

Some time later, I picked up Agent 6 at Nijinski. I hesitated reading it for almost a year. I had doubts.

But it was not whether I would enjoy the book.

Rather: Should I be spending any more of my limited time reading crime fiction? Shouldn’t I read something more serious like A History of the Arab Peoples or The Importance of Living; how about classics like Catch-22 and On the Road?

Eventually, the pleasure of reading won over pragmatism.

I started reading Agent 6 last Saturday night and finished it the next evening. It was great fun though it left me a little breathless trying to keep up with the pace, moving through time (three decades) and space (Moscow, Afghanistan, Pakistan, New York). The plot was particularly convoluted in Agent 6, but at least I learned a little about the Cold War.

Now that I’m done with all three books, I’ll probably bring them to Nijinski and hope that someone else would enjoy the trilogy as much as I did.

P.S. These photos were taken six months ago, on the day when the bookshelf was completed. I’ve since bought more books and so did AB. There are now piles of books popping up all over again. I’m counting on AB to build another bookshelf! 🙂

8 replies on “Reading Crime Fiction + Tom Rob Smith

  1. The bookshelves look good if a little full. Get that second (and third) bookcase built. You need a cabinet maker in residence. Make an honest man of him.

  2. I’m drawn to the neat little pile of white and grey books piled on top of each other in the second shelf, right corner. They look so intriguing. Gosh you are tough on yourself for feeling guilty you’re not reading A History of The Arab Peoples!

  3. I was gonna comment that your bookshelf looks tidier than mine…but, you lost a compliment with the postscript! 😀 If you are interested in middle east history, i recommend “From Beirut to Jerusalem” by Thomas Friedman…I think you will love it! 🙂

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