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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.