Cruz Smith is in back in high form here with chess inspired plotting and well drawn characterizations of a set of people trying to avoid being collateral damage in a massive corruption scheme in Putin s modern Russia It could make a great first read of the series featuring Arkady Renko, a Moscow police detective whose successes at achieving justice never seems to reduce his supply of enemies But knowing some of Renko s history from prior reads makes me want to know about his character than I really get with this tale Instead, he is of a lens or window on the drama among other characters.Renko s entry to this case comes in the form of a murder of a freelance translator for business leaders on a remote beach in Kaliningrad, a geographically isolated part of Russia with a port city of the same name on the Baltic Sea It was rebuilt during the Cold War as a military stronghold from bombed out Konigsberg after World War 2 and now is a frontier for shady development projects in the new Russia A prominent journalist on the trail of nefarious activities in Kaliningrad, Tatiana, has disappeared or been murdered, having left a voice recording that has Renko looking for a notebook of the translator as a key to the mystery When he succeeds in his brilliant efforts to acquire it, he finds the pictorial code it is written in totally baffling Some of the symbols in the notebook seem to have something to do with submarines and with an ancient business of mining the beach sands for ambergris.While Renko engages in some exciting and dangerous cat and mouse ploys in Kaliningrad, back at home the teenaged boy Zhenya, whom Renko serves as a guardian, takes on the challenge of translating the notebook Zhenya is a chess genius and hustler you may have encountered in prior books in the series With the help of a prospective girlfriend and fellow chess master, he slowly makes progress that comes to the dangerous attention of the son of a dead Russian mafia kingpin hoping to get his hand into the pie of the lucrative scheme The playful and brave efforts of these teens to solve their conundrum and help Renko in the process is the most pleasurable part of this tale Ever since Renko appeared in Gorky Park , I have savored his character through five of the other six books in the series Here we still get the pleasure of his dogged persistence in pursuing some form of justice for powerful and corrupt figures But I have trouble with this book getting a fix on Renko s heart and soul, and I miss the special edge to his sardonic and downtrodden character as portrayed in the books set in the Cold War epoch That s why I rate it average despite good satisfaction overall. Like so many mystery fans, I met Arkady Renko in 1981 when he first appeared in Martin Cruz Smith s brilliant, best selling novel of suspense, Gorky Park Seven tales about the troubled Russian crime investigator have followed at intervals of three years or I ve read nearly all of them recently, I read and reviewed Three Stations Tatiana is the latest.Smith, a Bay Area resident Marin County, I believe , has somehow managed to craft a series of compelling and all too credible stories that chronicle the descent of the Russian people from the tightly circumscribed lives they lived under Communism into the revived authoritarianism and kleptocracy of the Putin era.Like so many fictional hero detectives, Arkady Renko is an outlier, a brilliant performer among mediocrities and despised for his honesty on a police force that s corrupt to its core However, Renko is uniquely Russian He s melancholy to the edge of depression, fatalistic, cynical, and endlessly romantic The son of a notoriously brutal general in the army, he seems to live for little than to atone for his father s sins.In Tatiana, Renko stumbles upon the mysterious death of Tatiana Petrovna, a crusading Russian investigative reporter who gives her name to the book Clearly, she is modeled on the tragic figure of Anna Politkovskaya, a fearless journalist who was assassinated in Moscow in 2006.Working in the shadows of the police bureaucracy, barely tolerated by his boss, Renko pursues the truth behind Tatiana s death with the help of his alcoholic sidekick, Victor Orlov his adopted teenage son, Zhenya, a genius at chess who wants to run away to join the army the famous old poet Maxim Dal and his on again, off again girlfriend, Anya As the plot unfolds, the leading figures of the Russian Mafia enter the scene The story revolves around an interpreter s notebook, written in a personal language and supposedly untranslatable.Smith has a great gift for character Every one of the actors in this complex and satisfying tale is sculpted with care and lingers in memory Much of the dialogue is priceless lively and clever without appearing contrived Martin Cruz Smith is one of the premier crime writers of our age.
In this eighth book in the series, Russian detective Arkady Renko looks into the death of an investigative journalist The book can be read as a standalone Investigator Arkady Renko is attending the funeral of businessman mafia leader Grisha Grigorenko in Moscow when he encounters a group of demonstrators protesting the death of Tatiana Petrovna, a journalist who uncovers government corruption and exposes government officials who collude with criminals Tatiana s death was ruled a suicide but Renko doesn t believe it and against department regulations starts an investigation Tatiana s death seems to be linked to the recovered notebook of a murdered international translator, a book filled with indecipherable pictures and symbols Renko gets the notebook but can t figure it out Renko s investigation soon takes him to Kaliningrad, a port city run by gangster Grigorenko and his cohorts, considered one of the most corrupt cities in Russia Everyone the mob, cops, government officials, and Tatiana s editor wants Renko to quit investigating Tatiana s death In addition, many people want to get their hands on the mysterious notebook All this leads to intimidation, violence, and betrayal but Renko carries on There are various interesting characters in the story including Renko s gruff but likable partner Victor a broke, middle aged, dissolute poet who was Tatiana s former lover Renko s chess hustler ward Zhenya who s a whiz with puzzles an intrepid journalist who hopes to take over Tatiana s beat criminals on the make and In time, the notebook is translated and Tatiana s death is resolved To me Renko s investigation seemed plodding and less compelling than in previous books but the Russian ambiance of the story is fascinating and memorable All in all a pretty good mystery thriller.You can follow my reviews at This is another jewel in the Arkady Renko series It begins with the murder of a translator Renko finds himself at the funeral of a murdered gangster billionaire presided over by his heir apparent, Alexi, and attended by the cream of gangster society Arkady then finds himself caught up in a protest about the so called suicide of the investigative journalist, Tatiana, a thorn in the side of the Russian authorities Anya, a reporter who has been sleeping with Arkady, gives him a notebook which Tatiana had which belonged to the murdered translator The notebook proves to be well nigh impossible to decode and others are after it.Arkady takes on the investigation of Tatiana s death and becomes even determined after her body disappears It is assumed that the authorities are behind the disappearance so it does not become a rallying point for people to get behind Arkady s persistence takes him to Kaliningrad, amber mining companies, a poet by the name of Maxim who knew Tatiana and he uncovers other secrets This whilst facing untold dangers lurking everywhere Arkady still has a bullet rattling around in his head that he acquired in Stalin s Ghost and there is every possibility that that alone could kill him instantly Arkady s hard drinking partner, Victor, really proves his worth as he attempts to protect Zhenya and his newly acquired friend, Lotte, from gangsters and assassins.Arkady encounters corruption at earth shattering levels to steal from the Russian people The author incorporates the real history of Russia and uses it as a framework to weave a spellbinding mystery for the uncompromising Renko to follow So we read about the Kursk disaster, the Chechen school hostage scenario and the suspicious deaths of investigative journalists that threaten the State This lends the novel credibility and authenticity Brilliant storytelling with the formidable Arkady. If you don t mind me saying so, you are a difficult person to be in love with An interpreter speaking six languages attends a meeting in Kaliningrad A loner, he jots down the proceedings as a series of symbols, letters and the odd reference in a notebook, and in his spare time he rides an expensive Italian made racing cycle He is in contact with Tatiana, a crusading journalist before his body is found in the dunes, while Tatiana apparently commits suicide by plunging six floors from a Moscow apartment block In the same week, mafia boss Grisha Grigorenko dies from a bullet in the head In the eighth Investigator Arkady Renko novel, the action switches between Moscow and the Russian enclave bordered by Poland, Belarus and Lithuania Kaliningrad, a Cold War city and home port of the Baltic fleet, was for a while left off the maps Formerly the seat of German Kings Koenigsburg it is one of the world s richest sources of amber.Martin Cruz Smith again excels in a novel rich in characters and subplots, with mafia families and corrupt government officials, casting tragic events in Russia s recent history with the personal loss suffered by Arkady Renko Aided by Detective Viktor Orlov, and teenage chess wizard Zhenya, there are delightful cameos of a resort town on the Baltic near the ever shifting sands of a spit between Russia and Lithuania, visited only by birdwatchers out of season, and two Moscow detectives who take early retirement to Sochi, only to find it full of middle aged men and specials on Australian wine It demands a reader take note of verbal and visual clues 4. Corruption, particularly government corruption, is one of the elements that make Arkady Renko such an appealing character His investigations follow the trail, no matter where they lead Here, it would seem that he has found an ideal ally Tatiana Petrovna is an investigative reporter who has angered both politicians and mafia figures She was relentless, even in the face of constant threats against her life Unfortunately, she s dead Suicide That s the first difference in this book Without preliminary introductions, it opens with three corpses whose connections are not at all clear.Tatiana Petrovna s body has disappeared, an event viewed with indifference by the political officials so often targeted by her reporting Her friends are demanding an autopsy, and Renko is swept up in the group as they are attacked by an assortment of skinheads and police Protest equals troublemakers in the view of the latter, and Renko is kicked and stomped on before he can show his identification Even then, the police are not necessarily apologetic He and his partner Victor Orlov are on the scene by accident, to photograph the funeral of Grisha Grigorenko, recently assassinated mobster kingpin This too, is a meaningless exercise Grigorenko s death is not exactly an actuarial anomaly given his occupation.Renko s superior, Prosecutor Zurin, should know by now that for Renko, boredom and curiosity are like a lit fuse of dynamite Eager to get Renko out of his hair, he quickly approves Renko s request to look for Tatiana Petrovna s missing corpse Renko s search will take him to a remote village called Kaliningrad Is it merely coincidence Kaliningrad is also the site of a secret international conclave where Joseph Bonnafos had been hired as a consecutive interpreter Fluent in six languages and discreet, he is the ideal choice for the role His caution extends to his notes of the meeting They are written in a personal shorthand of glyphs Bonnafos is an avid bicyclist He pedals his custom made bicycle out to the beach for recreation and is murdered Renko develops an obsession for Tatiana after listening to a box of tapes he finds in her apartment One records the minute by minute decisions during a hostage crisis in a Moscow theater A poison gas is releasedSeven hundred hostages were freed and not a single one of our soldiers lost in what clearly should have been a triumph in the war against terrorism However, the gas also killed one hundred thirty hostages.Hundreds need hospitalization There is an antidote, but we are informed that the nature of the gas is a state secret and cannot be divulged The man from Special Operations says, When you chop wood, chips flyp.76 This is only one of several tragedies she narrates in a passive voice that drips with irony and unspoken accusation Although chilling in what they reveal about the government, Smith unfortunately is not able to convey the haunting power of the tapes to the reader Perhaps this indicates something about me The level of corruption and the disregard for human life is no longer surprising to me Smith seems to realize that Arkady, himself, is not surprised by these revelations Arkady s obsession is personal Tatiana s voice conjures the memory of his dead wife, Irina, who was also a journalist Irina s death, however, was an unnecessary accident, the product of incompetence and bureaucratic indifference This begins as a promising mystery The author s depiction of the interpreter is particularly intriguing Joseph Bonnafos interests are narrow but deep, and I wished we had gotten to know him better before his violent demise.One problem is that Renko and Orlov are working separately during most of the case Renko displays his characteristic sense of irony When Anya, another journalist, asks himHow can they lose a bodyhe respondsThey ve lost bodies for years It s one of their functionsp.18 Without Orlov s exaggerated emotions, however, Renko s wit cannot be fully displayed Despite his role, Orlove is an under utilized character in this book.The biggest problem I had, however, was credibility Renko is rescued from one life threatening situation by pure luck He stumbles on a clue to the translator s missing bicycle through a chance conversation The decoding of the interpreter s notes felt completely improbable As written, I could feel the author s hand nudging his characters toward the solution Characters such as Zhenya, the seventeen year old street kid Renko s has assumed responsibility for, and Lotte, a chess player Zhenya meets, felt underdeveloped and placed to enhance the plot Zhenya was a much vivid character in an earlier book, THE THREE STATIONS.Of course, Smith s Arkady Renko books are always fun to read I will continue to read them as long as Smith writes them Still, in my opinion, this was not one of the best books of the series.