July 12, 2007


Digging for Ghosts (OTTO PENZLER, July 12, 2007, NY Sun)

As in the previous five books about Arkady Renko, beginning with the modern classic "Gorky Park" and continuing with 2004's "Wolves Eat Dogs," Martin Cruz Smith's new novel, "Stalin's Ghost" provides an intense, close-up look at the "new" Russia, and it's not a pretty picture. [...]

For more than a quarter of a century, Mr. Smith has been both a best seller and one of the smoothest, most readable and stylish authors in the mystery field. A large cast of characters interact in this novel, which has a plot busier than a rat on a rope, but once you get used to the Russian names, each has a separate and easily identifiable personality, limned perfectly by the accomplished author.

Among the players are Zhenya, the chess prodigy unofficially adopted by Renko, who now lives on the street; Ilya Platonov, the Grandmaster, always drunk but a loyal friend to Zhenya and Arkaday; Ginsberg, a Jewish hunchback photojournalist who Urman calls a dwarf but who says he is merely "abridged"; a couple of American political consultants hired to help Isakov's campaign; and Tanya, the gorgeous blonde harpist who has many surprises in store for Renko (which I'd love to tell you about because they are colorful, but you should discover them for yourself).

At the murder scene of one of the Black Berets, his wife, so drunk she can barely stand, has improbably used a meat cleaver in a perfect arc onto her husband's neck. She soon turns up dead, too, and Renko looks at her body: "She was the indeterminate color of an old rug and possibly that was what she had been in life."

That is not an attractive epitaph, but Mr. Smith's vivid depiction of the corrupt and despairing country that often looks back to a time of terror as a better time than the present is not attractive either. That he can offer hope for a happy outcome for even a few of its inhabitants is a monumental achievement.

Havana Bay offered a nicely dark take on the Left's favorite island paradise too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 12, 2007 12:43 PM

The entire series is good, but Wolves Eat Dogs was excellent. I thought it the best in the series since Gorky Park. For those who don't know, it takes place in the area around the Chernobyl reactor. The changes to Chernobyl and Pripyat since the meltdown are quite interesting.

Posted by: Patrick H at July 12, 2007 3:14 PM

I haven't read the Chernobyl book, but "Havana Bay" was quite good. I have seen some reviews by Russian ex-pats who thought "Stalin's Ghost" was silly.

Posted by: jim hamlen at July 12, 2007 11:55 PM