Gorky Park (Volume 1): Martin Cruz Smith (The Arkady Renko Novels)
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At a bathhouse, Arkady's superior, Chief Prosecutor Iamskoy, introduces Arkady to an American fur millionaire, John Osborne, who regularly visits Russia. Irina Asanova, a beautiful young Siberian dissident, also seems to have connections to the victims; and from the disdain with which Renko and Irina speak to each other, it is clear that the two are falling deeply in love. Under a succession of grey, corrupt leaders, the empire was descending into the chaos that would bring it down within a few years. However, if you prefer your crime novels to have a simpler plot structure and full of page-turning action scenes then Gorky Park may be less to your liking. This is the third of the Arkady Renko novels I have read, and I look forward to tracking down the others in the series.
Even before the finding of the Gorky Park corpses, Renko has been having plenty of troubles of his own. While Renko is complicated and tormented by social and moral angst, Smith populates his story with a Dickensian cast of fascinating players.They are also heavily protected during the investigation to the frustration of Renko, when it becomes obvious there is an element of foreign involvement. To identify the victims and uncover the truth, he must battle the KGB, FBI, and the New York City police as he pursues a rich and ruthless American fur dealer. And as I entered the crime scene with our dishevelled and grumpy Arcady Renko, deep within the famed Moscow park - in a fairytale midwinter scene of icily glittering snow - I saw how expertly the scene had been set for “doom, deep and darker than any sea-dingle! Renko has also appeared in Polar Star, Red Square, Havana Bay, Wolves Eat Dogs, Stalin's Ghost, and Three Stations. He knows how the system works, sees no problem in "losing" the files on a few murder cases to keep the crime rate low and the politicians happy.
Our anti-hero Renko is actually the son of a famously butcherous general in the Red Army, said to have been a favourite of Josef Stalin years ago (and fictional as far as I can tell). In spite of his weakened state, Arkady laughs when he realizes from his interrogators' questions that Iamskoy was himself a high-ranking KGB officer, planted as a spy in the militsiya, and his superiors were badly embarrassed to find that he betrayed them to help Osborne. Chief homicide investigator Arkady Renko is brilliant, sensitive, honest, and cynical about everything except his profession.Gorky Park introduces Arkady Renko, Chief Investigator with the Moscow militia, set during the former Soviet Union under Secretary Brezhnev. My favorite part of this novel was Cruz Smith's ability to portray the Russian psyche, and there is nothing that does this better than humor and insinuations (that may be lost on those who are not familiar with the Eastern Block machinery-and Cruz Smith, bless his soul, is not explicit-explicating to a "western" audience the intangibles of life beyond the Iron Curtain would only destroy the novel's realism). This is probably my most favorite "detective" novel read to date, because it is so much more than a mystery--it is really a masterfully written, poignant, cynical, realistic, and all-too-palpable portrayal of life behind the Iron Curtain. must be suppressed, there are great economic issues and matters of national security, both Russian and American, far more important than a policeman's duty. Took turns and went directions that I never saw coming, and I definitely understand Stephen King’s reference to this book in The Institute now.
When Arkady Renko, Senior Investigator in the Moscow Prosecutor's Office, arrives in Gorky Park to examine the three mutilated corpses found frozen in the snow, he discovers that he is not the first investigator on the scene. From other reviews that I have read I know that I'm clearly in the minority but I just didn't find anything about this book or the characters to like. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much in Smith’s background that would point ahead toward his writing a series of detective novels set in the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation. I am going to read the next one, 'Polar Star' because I am wondering what new mystery/spy plot inventions the author can possibly have left after tossing in every mystery genre plot mechanism that has ever been created into this book. Renko is intelligent, moody, cynical and at times defiant in his dogged pursuit of the killer's identity, which puts him at odds with a brash, wealthy American fur trader.
In many ways, 99% of conversations of the time either consisted of (1) backhanded humor or (2) dark innuendo. Between watching the ‘80s era Soviet spies in FX’s The Americans, and tensions running high over Russian activity in the Ukraine, it almost seems like Cold War never ended. None of these authors reach LeCarre's best, but all three manage to hit close to his average with their best, if that makes sense. The last few chapters were a rollercoaster as the action decamps to the USA and I think I held my breath for the entirety of the penultimate chapter. What protects Renko is his excellent work as an investigator, his known loyalty to Russia (though not the Soviet Union), his ability to think on his feet, a Stoic approach to life, and an ironic sense of humour.