The acclaimed thriller Child 44 has been nominated for a top award for the 2008 Costa First Novel Award.

They were known as the Whitbread Awards from 1971 to 2006, when the coffee chain took over sponsorship.

Tom Rob Smith’s masterful book, set against the bleak backdrop of 1950s Russia, follows respected secret policeman Leo Demidov and his wife Raisa.

His first novel, it caused a fierce bidding war at the London Book Fair.

Child 44 follows Leo as he struggles to track down a child-murdering serial killer whilst facing the Soviet system that refuses to believe crime exists unless committed by so-called ‘deviants.’

In the poverty-stricken era of Stalin’s cruel regime, homeless drunks and homosexuals are arrested for non-existent offences while paranoid citizens are pressured into denouncing suspected criminals, including friends and family members.

Since the release of Child 44 in February, Smith has been thrust rather rapidly into the limelight of the literary world.

The 29-year-old was nominated for the Man Booker, one of the most prestigious prizes in literature, earlier this year.

This year’s Costa Book Awards attracted 616 entries – the highest-ever number of submissions in one year.

The awards recognise the most enjoyable books in five categories – First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book – published in the last year by writers based in the UK and Ireland.

Judges on this year’s panels (three per category) included author Lisa Jewell; actress and writer Pauline McLynn; journalist, writer and broadcaster Michael Buerk; poet and broadcaster Roger McGough CBE; and writer Victoria Hislop.

Click here to read an interview with Tom Rob Smith.