There are not many road signs in Russia, you know He laughed If you don t know where the road goes, you shouldn t be on it Arkady RenkoWhen Gorky Park was first published in 1981, it was immediately banned in the then Soviet Union because of its apt depiction of everyday Soviet life Though I ve never been to Russia my only immersion into the culture was the year I spent trying unsuccessfully to learn the language , its image is intricately linked with the glamorous Moscow of the film, The Saint, in my mind s eye Smith s depiction is the polar opposite It s gritty, dark and dangerous Everyone fears being sent to political prison, or worse Siberia And they would be right to be afraid the murky past of a close relative, one whisper from a vengeful neighbor, or even owning a Bible would be enough to get one into trouble with the KGB.Detective Arkady Renko lives a simple life Though the son of a decorated war general, and a member of the communist party, he prefers not to make waves or get any marks on his party card Murder is his specialty, which is fine by him, as all the ones he has come across are the direct results of drunkenness, jealousy or accident Open Shut What he isn t prepared for are the three frozen bodies found in Gorky Park, with their faces skinned and fingertips cut off Clearly, this is not your average Soviet murder.I enjoyed this book for the same reasons I was enad of Smilla s Sense of Snow It was simultaneously a page turner and social commentary Though things have changed globally since 1981, many things are still the same Greed, money and corruption make the world go round, and you d be a fool to think otherwise Everyone seemingly has a price that they can be bought at, and those that are faithful to their beliefs and standards often suffer I ve already purchased the next book in the series, grateful that unlike Peter Hoeg s book, Renko lives on for another seven books. I read this back in 1983 and watched the movie when it came out too It was an interesting Cold War novel that should Russians as people, and also reinforced the fear of the KGB America ns did not come out perfectly clean either The book added some grey in the black and white bipolar world I enjoyed the revisit and the reminder of how much the world has changed and yet still remains the same. There s this concept in fantasy writing, world building Sci fi too It s pretty self explanatory because these books are not taking place in our universe, it s up to the author to give us all the details to paint the picture, provide shading in just the right places, ensure we can tell what we are supposed to be looking at Economics, politics, interpersonal relations, language, gender roles, humor This can be done well, emphasizing just here and embellishing just there, so the empty spaces also fill in the canvas Or it can be done poorly, cramming in everything, and we wind up with Where s Waldo, and no one can figure out what the hell is happening Martin Cruz Smith is a really good world builder I mean, he s writing about a real place, but it doesn t exist any, as such, so I don t think that makes his job any easier Granted, I have no idea what life was like in the Soviet Union in the early 80s, and maybe the author didn t either But this is a fully realized world, a backdrop that adds a great deal of freshness to yet another twisty detective thriller Part of the reason Stieg Larsson books created a new genre in the U.S well, sort of the Swedish location specific murder genre are his weirdly obsessive descriptions of the Swedish landscape, which gave readers something to focus on while Lisbeth was shopping at Ikea Here, the sense of place is as compelling with weather as miserable the plot and writing, a lot better.Arkady Renko is a great character 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 Yet he refuses to follow the party line, pisses off the wrong people, follows leads when he has no vested interest, not even a strong desire for justice He just wants to be right He is assigned to the case of three corpses found shot and mutilated in a famous park, and it seems like he keeps working on it for no reason other than the fact that it violated his personal sensibility that it s uncouth to murder people in a place where people come to relax, commiserate with friends, maybe do some ice skating.The plot is pretty complicated, as you d expect, but the trappings you ll see what I did there in a second are pretty fun Without giving too much away, everything ties into the international fur trade, and if Martin Cruz Smith is right, it s a bloody business This is a Russian sable This is a Russian sable fur coat image error A mesmerizing police procedural murder mystery that also explores Soviet Russia and the dichotomy between east and west.Set in the late 70s the book was first published in 1981 this is the SOVIET UNION, Leonid freaking Brezhnev, and still some old pre revolution folks running around Moscow.Chief Inspector Arkady Renko is tasked with solving the murders of three people found in Gorky Park, their bodies frozen and killed weeks earlier, hidden by the snow Their faces have been mutilated and fingertips removed to hinder identification.What follows is not just damn fine crime fiction, but an examination of the communist revolution, the good, the bad and the ugly of human nature regardless of ideology and finally a study of the juxtaposition of us and them.Writer Martin Cruz Smith s greatest achievement, in my humble opinion, is his superb characterization While Renko is complicated and tormented by social and moral angst, Smith populates his story with a Dickensian cast of fascinating players Irena and Kirwill are well drawn but as in many novels, the chief antagonist is the most compelling character John Osborne is an American capitalist who personifies wealth and corruption The dialogue between he and Renko at the end is reminiscent of the scene between Rakolnikov and Porfiry in Dostoyevsky s Crime and Punishment.Highly entertaining and highly recommended. A little bit of actual research would ve been nice I am very forgiving when it comes to getting things wrong about USSR after all, not everyone lived there and not everyone knows the culture I was able to forgive the misuse of names and the word comrade I was able to forgive the fact the the author seems to think that Moscow is located at the north pole Factories suing each other though come on Who doesn t know that in communism all factories belong to the state That would mean that the government was suing itself Also couldn t forgive the idea that kgb would have to cover up killing people accused in treason I had a family member die because he was a suspect I knew many others who s family members die the same way Trust me, kgb didn t have to cover up for any of it Killing traitors and enemies of the people was a part of their job The article in the teacher s newspaper in the begining of chapter 2 was also a load of cat poo Why would a government put Stalin, who was Georgian, and Khrushchev, who was Ukrainian, in power if the policies were so racist against non Russians Of all the problems USSR had, racism was not one of them In fact, racism is something USSR used in their propoganda against the US There were movies made where they were specifically criticizing US for segregation The pop babies propaganda did exist in USSR, but it wasn t to have Russians as the dominant race, it was because during WWII almost an entire generation got killed They needed to repopulate the country. Martin Cruz Smith s Gorky Park 1981 is the first book in series set in the Soviet Union and featuring Arkady Renko, a homicide investigator for the Moscow city police It is an unusual work, for it gives the reader a unique glimpse into the difficulties facing a detective who is forced to operate in a police state For example and this makes for a noteworthy variation on the typical policier Renko at first tries not to solve his case, but instead to find some piece of evidence of foreign involvement or some form of conspiracy that will allow him to dump the whole vexing affair in the lap of the KGB The vodka fueled bludgeonings he usually investigates are easy to handle, but these three frozen corpses in Gorky Park two men and one woman shot to death, their faces and fingertips removed to prevent identification are another matter entirely This is definitely something that might attract the attention of his superiors And that kind of attention is something Arkady Renko does not desire.One of the best things about Smith s book is his portrait of the Soviet bureaucracy suspicious and hypocritical, deceptive and self deceptive, filled with outmoded beliefs and threadbare traditions, always ready to betray the loyal and the naive for the good of the institution Now what exactly did Smith s description of this society remind me of The Republican Party The Roman Catholic Church Yes, of course, those too, but they weren t exactly the institutions I was thinking of And then it hit me Smith s Soviet Union reminded me of John le Carre s The Circus, his fictionalized portrait of British Intelligence in the post WW II world.In 1979, John Le Carre completed the last volume of his highly esteemed Karla Trilogy Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy The Honourable Schoolboyand Smiley s People , in which he depicts in detail the culture of the British Spy Network And than a little about the Soviet Union too Two years later, Gorky Park was published Le Carre, a writer of genius, transforms his jaundiced view of the circus of spies into a metaphor for an even greater fraud humanity itself Martin Cruz Smith, although no genius, is an accomplished writer of thrillers who knows how to learn from a master In Gorky Park he has given us an excellent mystery that although no indictment of humanity is also a memorable portrait of the Soviet Union in decline. A Triple Murder In A Moscow Amusement Center Three Corpses Found Frozen In The Snow, Faces And Fingers Missing Chief Homicide Investigator Arkady Renko Is Brilliant, Sensitive, Honest, And Cynical About Everything Except His Profession To Identify The Victims And Uncover The Truth, He Must Battle The KGB, FBI, And New York Police As He Performs The Impossible And Tries To Stay Alive Doing It Well Sigh I m deciding what to write Ok Truth.I m disappointed with Gorky Park , book one in the Soviet Union s Inspector Arkady Renko series Oh, it s a fine inventive entertainment for a mystery, with a lot of twists and near death escapes, tons of corrupt cops and officials, and so many betrayals and hidden motives I am amazed the body count wasn t higher considering the undrained swamps that Renko wades through in not just Russia, but also in New York City In Russia, many different official police, prosecutor and spy departments want Renko to not really solve the murders of the three bodies found in Moscow s Gorky Park, but instead they each want him to say he solved the crimes in the way each department head wants Each has a plan to force or trick Renko into filing a report that each of the representatives of the different Russian departments want, and afterwords they each plan to file a report of his sudden death hopefully being able to say it was suicide, or from being killed by an enemy of the state, or because he had been made to confess to the murders or confess to working as a corrupt double agent There are scenes of meetings between nefarious officials and underworld characters which made no sense to me than they did to Renko, other than establishing confusing and possible relationships Later, in America, Renko is manhandled and passed around in the custody of the FBI, the New York City police, the KGB, and a rogue triple agent I am still scratching my head over the supposed reason for the Soviets to allow Renko to travel to America and the Big Finish reveal It did not ring true at all.But I guess the biggest complaint I have is the story has too much plotting I could not suspend disbelief after I was 60% into the story Instead I began to feel I was reading a sneaky tongue in cheek joke mystery or an overcooked Dashiell Hammett The Maltese Falcon simulacrum by a very good writer who had been asked to come up with a huge summer blockbuster script by a tone deaf Hollywood producer.So Other than the fact I was snorting and guffawing when I wasn t supposed to, it is a well written mystery Three stars for the good writing and wily twists Maybe you won t guffaw, gentle reader 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. This novel was originally published in 1981 Almost 36 years ago I believe that I attempted to read the book once before, perhaps shortly after it s publication, but did not finish I wish I had read it then Reading it today I find it is dated The author demonstrated talent in describing scenes in the story whether it is in Moscow, a Russian dacha, or a dingy New York hotel room you could visualize it and feel as though you were right there What I found difficult to believe was the level of corruption and conspiracy Basically everyone Arkady Renko, a chief homicide investigator, is assigned to a case involving three corpses found in Gorky Park, an amusement park in Moscow, who have had their faces and fingertips cut off It is a cold case no pun intended The victims had been buried in the snow and only revealed when the snow started to melt Renko is smart and sensitive He is also a victim His wife doesn t love him and is having an affair His superiors use him Life in the Soviet Union is like an insane asylum In the Soviet Union dissidents are labeled as mentally ill and forcibly treated with psychotropic drugs Renko exposes corruption and dishonesty wherever he finds it, including on the part of influential and well protected members of the elite, regardless of the consequences The consequence being that he finds himself described by a KGB agent as mentally ill You have unreal expectations You overestimate your personal powers You feel isolated from society You swing from excitement to sadness You mistrust the people who most want to help you You resent authority even when you represent it You think you are the exception to every rule You underestimate the collective intelligence What is right is wrong and what is wrong is right I had a difficult time deciding on how many stars to give this book At times I found myself into it and the story Other times though it seemed to drag and I just wanted it to end so I could move on to the next book Maybe in 1981 before the collapse of the Soviet Union I would have been deeply into the book Today though it just felt outdated IMHO. Martin Cruz Smith s novels featuring Chief Investigator Arkady Renko have long been favourites of mine As there hasn t been a new Renko book since Tatiana in 2013 I thought I d return for the fourth time to the beginning Yet again I m still thrilled by the excellent plotting, the well drawn characters the author s ability to create a fascinating portrait of Russia.Gorky Park is not only one of my favourite novels it is also one of my all time favourite films When I was young I had the film poster on my bedroom wall I still listen to James Horner s excellent soundtrack today So if you want to read a great thriller just remember as the film s tagline goes It all began with three faceless bodies in the snow.
- 433 pages
- Gorky Park
- Martin Cruz Smith
- 03 March 2017 Martin Cruz Smith