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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.