cover image The Child Thief

The Child Thief

Dan Smith. Pegasus Crime (Norton, dist.), $25.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-60598-440-7

British author Smith (Dry Season) makes his U.S. debut with this highly atmospheric thriller set during the winter of 1930 in the Soviet Union. One day, a wounded stranger pulling a sled stumbles into Vyriv, a remote Ukrainian village. Two dead children lie on the sled, their bodies mutilated in a way that suggests cannibalism. The stranger soon dies, yet during his brief stay, nine-year-old Dariya goes missing into the nearby forest, the mythical home of “Baba Yaga,” an old hag who eats children. As snow falls the next morning, the girl’s uncle, WWI veteran Luka Mikhailovich Sidorov, gives chase with his twin 17-year-old sons. Days later, just as the three are closing in on their quarry, government agents capture Luka, who’s subsequently interrogated and tortured. He manages to escape with a few clues to Dariya’s disappearance and resumes his search. From the arresting opening to the tense finale, Smith doesn’t hit a false note in this captivating tale of the power of the human spirit when pushed to the brink. (June)