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Book Author: Martin Cruz Smith

TATIANA by Martin Cruz Smith: Book Review

There aren’t many mysteries that leave you with a smile on your face.  But that’s what Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith did for me.

It’s not that this novel isn’t frightening.  It definitely is.  It’s simply that it’s so well written, its characters so well drawn, that when the book ends the way you hope it will, you’re totally satisfied. 

There are four main threads that tie the novel together, although at first they seem to be separate, unrelated strands.  First we are introduced to Joseph, a multilingual translator working in the Russian city of Kaliningrad, far from the capital.  He has transcribed notes for the conference at which he was translating, notes not in shorthand but in a secret code that only he is able to read.

The second thread takes us to the Moscow funeral of Mafia boss Grisha Grigorenko, his empire left up for grabs.  Who will be able to claim it and hold it:  his son Alexi, not considered to be the equal of his late father; Ape Beledon and his two sons, all three rival mobsters of the Grigorenkos; or the Shagelmans, a husband and wife specializing in banking and building schemes?

The third is the eponymous Tatiana, an investigative journalist in Moscow.  According to the newspapers and the police, she jumped to her death from her apartment window.  But those who knew her, or knew her simply by reputation, don’t believe that.  They say she was fearless and totally committed to uncovering the corruption rampant in the “new Russia” and would never have killed herself because she valued the importance of her work too much.  There has been no further investigation and no body available, so naturally police detective Arkady Renko gets involved.

And the fourth is Arkady’s semi-official foster son Zhenya, now seventeen and determined to join the Russian Army.  Because he’s still a minor, he needs Arkady’s signed permission to enlist, something that Arkady refuses to give him.  So Zhenya takes matters into his own hands with a bit of extortion.

The four threads eventually combine, tangle, and knot.  Arkady investigates the case, although his superiors tell him numerous times that there is no case; and there’s no body because, either accidentally or deliberately and in spite of written directions to the contrary, Tatiana’s body was cremated.  Still, Arkady plugs on.

Having read nearly all the previous Arkady Renko novels, I’m still in awe of his survival powers, first in the Communist Soviet Union and now in the “new Russia.”  The police are just as corrupt as they were decades earlier, and now Arkady must contend with the forces of the newly mega-rich Russians who have their own agenda.  Their luxury cars, their expensive jewels, their elegant dachas–these Russians don’t want to give them up and will use any means necessary to hold on to them.  How Arkady manages to survive in this world of government ineptitude and corruption and billionaire oligarchs is nothing short of miraculous.

I’ve been a fan of Martin Cruz Smith ever since his short-lived series, Gypsy in Amber and Canto for a Gypsy, appeared in the early 1970s.  I really enjoyed those novels and wish the series had continued.  But I find every Arkady Renko novel a thrilling read, so I can’t complain.

You can read more about Martin Cruz Smith at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.







THREE STATIONS by Martin Cruz Smith: Book Review

As usual, there’s a lot going on in Moscow. And Russian police inspector Arkady Renko is, unwillingly, in the middle of it.

Three Stations is where three railroad stations meet.  It’s a terminal that has proved to be terminal for a young woman whose half-unclothed body is found in a trailer in the station.  The illegal wiring in the trailer is connected to the railway police station and then to the nearby militia station.  Is it any wonder that the police call this death a suicide and forbid Arkady Renko to investigate?

The only clue that Arkady finds in the trailer is a pass to a luxury fair currently going on in the city. Having officially been taken off the case and told to expect his termination notice shortly, he feels he has nothing to lose and so goes to the fair.  It’s sponsored by billionaire (or is that former billionaire?) Sasha Vaksberg, aka the “Prince of Darkness.”

The fair features various items up for auction:  a rifle that had belonged to a Romanov child for $75,000; an emerald necklace for $275,00; a ride to the International Space Station for $25 million. This is the new Russia, a millionaire’s playground.  The fair is supposed to be a charity event for the homeless children of Moscow, but does it have a more sinister purpose?

Shortly before the young woman’s body is discovered, a teenage girl runs off the train that has just arrived at Three Stations.  Maya, no last name or home town, is frantically looking for her baby, whom she says was stolen while she slept on the train, but the railway police don’t believe her story. She has no personal identification, no picture of the baby, no witnesses who might have seen the alleged abduction.

Zhenya Lysenko, an unofficial ward of Arkady’s, is in Three Stations hustling games of chess, as usual. Zhenya isn’t sure he believes Maya’s story about the baby, but he can see that she’s alone and frantic, and he wants to help her.  She refuses to go with him to see Arkady, or any other police official, so he smuggles her into the abandoned Peter the Great gambling casino that he uses as a base while they try to find the infant.

Martin Cruz Smith’s series follows the history of the Soviet Union/Russia as much as it follows Renko’s.  The state corruption and mismanagement are different, yet the same.  Now there are millionaires and even billionaires in Russia, but crime, drunkenness, and a desperate underclass are still here.  The promise of the communist government was unfulfilled; the same can be said for its replacement.

Three Stations is a look into a society with multiple problems.  Arkady Renko is one of the few officials who cares, but the corrupt bureaucracy is against him.  Despite his successes, or perhaps because of them, in each novel his future becomes more precarious.

You can read more about Martin Cruz Smith at his web site.