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Stalin's Ghost: An Arkady Renko Novel (Arkady Renko Novels)by Martin Cruz Smith
"In Stalin's Ghost, author Martin Cruz Smith allows the laconic sleuth with the brooding Slavic psyche only his sixth outing in a quarter of a century. But fans of the Renko series focus on quality, not quantity....
Synopses & Reviews
Investigator Arkady Renko, the pariah of the Moscow prosecutor's office, has been assigned the thankless job of investigating a new phenomenon: late-night subway riders report seeing the ghost of Joseph Stalin on the platform of the Chistye Prudy Metro station. The illusion seems part political hocus-pocus and also part wishful thinking, for among many Russians Stalin is again popular; the bloody dictator can boast a two-to-one approval rating. Decidedly better than that of Renko, whose lover, Eva, has left him for Detective Nikolai Isakov, a charismatic veteran of the civil war in Chechnya, a hero of the far right and, Renko suspects, a killer for hire. The cases entwine, and Renko's quests become a personal inquiry fueled by jealousy.
The investigation leads to the fields of Tver outside of Moscow, where once a million soldiers fought. There, amidst the detritus, Renko must confront the ghost of his own father, a favorite general of Stalin's. In these barren fields, patriots and shady entrepreneurs — the Red Diggers and Black Diggers — collect the bones, weapons and personal effects of slain World War II soldiers, and find that even among the dead there are surprises.
"'Moscow-based Senior Investigator Arkady Renko, in his outstanding sixth outing (after Wolves Eat Dogs), investigates a murder-for-hire scheme that leads him to suspect two fellow police detectives, Nikolai Isakov and Marat Urman, both former members of Russia's elite Black Berets, who served in Chechnya. Isakov, a war hero, is now running for public office. Renko must also look into reports that the ghost of Stalin has begun appearing on subway platforms and why several bodies of Black Berets who served in Chechnya with Isakov have turned up in the morgue. Despite repeated threats to his life, Renko stubbornly perseveres, seeking justice in a land that has no official notion of that concept. Smith eschews vertiginous twists and surprises, concentrating instead on Renko as he slowly and patiently builds his case until the pieces fall together and he has again, if not exactly triumphed, at least survived. This masterful suspense novel casts a searing light on contemporary Russia. 250,000 first printing. (June)' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"
"Against all odds, art happens. On television, 'The Sopranos' ends in an explosion of blood and poetry that's closer to 'Macbeth' than to 'The Godfather.' On film, Julie Christie, always heartbreakingly beautiful, is both heartbreaking and beautiful in 'Away From Her.' In music ... where to begin? The other night, I returned to an old friend, Erroll Garner's 'Concert by the Sea,' and reflected anew... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) that its magic may be what Mozart would have given us if he had been young, gifted and black in 1955. And in fiction? This week brings us the sixth installment in Martin Cruz Smith's series about the Moscow detective Arkady Renko, a continuing adventure that in terms of popular fiction is surely a work of art. We first met the stubbornly honest, long-suffering Renko in 1981's best-selling 'Gorky Park.' Now, 26 years later, Renko still smokes too much, has trouble with women and clashes with his superiors, but 'Stalin's Ghost' is profoundly unlike the earlier novel. 'Gorky Park' was edgy and irreverent but essentially a stately police procedural about three mutilated bodies found in a frozen Moscow park. The tone of the new novel is vastly different. Today's Russia, as Smith pictures it, is a madhouse — poor Renko is the only sane man in sight. The Soviet Union, under communism, was awful but predictable. The new Russia confronts Renko with a bewildering mix of capitalism, corruption, mob violence, political consultants, policemen who are hired killers, feminism, Chechen terrorists and, most incredibly, nostalgia for Joe Stalin. Early in the novel, Renko's lover, Eva, watching the snow fall, says, 'Maybe Moscow will be buried completely.' 'Like Atlantis?' he suggests. 'Exactly like Atlantis,' she replies. 'And people will not be able to believe that such a place ever existed.' It exists for Smith, and to portray it he has embraced the surreal, the fantastic, the blackest of black humor. Renko is told to investigate late-night sightings of Stalin in Moscow's Chistye Prudy Metro station. On the way to the station, Renko passes the Supreme Court building, where bodies are being dug up from the basement, bodies thought to have been there since the 1940s. Is this the novel's plot? No, just a casual reminder that in this Russia the past is never really past. At the Metro station, people do indeed claim to have seen their onetime leader. 'I saw Stalin as plain as day,' a woman declares. 'He asked me to get him a bowl of hot soup.' Is this a hoax? A mass hallucination? Renko finds out, but not before Smith has made his point: What sort of nation is Russia today if millions of its people are nostalgic for one of history's most notorious mass murderers? Characters return from earlier Renko novels. He and Eva, a doctor, coexist uneasily: 'Sex was performed in silence and it was difficult to say how much of their lovemaking was passion and how much the desperate scraping of a dead match.' Eva's 12-year-old son, Zhenya, often runs away to pursue his livelihood of chess hustler, playing adults for money and never losing. Platonov, the old chess grandmaster, remains an unreconstructed communist: 'I remember when millionaires were shot on principle.' The plot turns on Eva's affair with Nikolai Isakov, a hero of the Chechen war who may be a coldblooded killer and is running for the senate on an ultranationalist ticket. Renko persists in investigating Isakov's crimes, despite several attempts on his life, one by a lovely woman who plays the harp in a Moscow hotel. In a grimly funny scene, Renko, with her harp-string garrote around his neck, is about to expire ('Strangulation came in stages') even as, from the communist gathering in the next room, we hear old recordings of Stalin denouncing Trotskyites while his audience shouts 'Bullets are too good!' and 'Stamp on them like vermin!' In this novel, it is nothing for Renko, while trying to buy a motorcycle, suddenly to find 'an old man coming at him from behind with a pitchfork.' Nor is it surprising when a young couple on the street 'walked by with the soft steps of the truly stoned.' The climax of the novel is a hallucinatory scene near the stark city of Tver, where Renko is in exile. The bodies of dead Russians, shot by the Germans in 1941, are believed to be buried in a field outside the city, and Isakov's American political consultants have organized a massive 'dig' at which the bodies of the martyrs will be found and Isakov will deliver a patriotic speech that will propel him to national prominence. Remains are indeed found ('As the day warmed, snow became a soft rain that revealed a cranium here, a kneecap there'), but there are problems, including the land mines that are scattered about the field. Renko feels magic in the air — 'He thought that between the patriotism and grain alcohol Stalin was bound to make an appearance' — and pays too little attention to the latest villain determined to kill him. All ends more or less well, but not before Smith, as well as entertaining us, has raised interesting questions. Renko can be seen as a father to Michael Connelly's equally honest and stubborn Harry Bosch, but Connelly's Los Angeles is never the madhouse that Smith's Russia has become. Thus the question: Is today's America all that less mad than Russia? Or is madness simply funnier when it's half a world away?" Reviewed by Richard Lipez, who writes detective fiction under the name Richard StevensonLisa Zeidner, a professor at Rutgers University in Camden; her latest novel is 'Layover'Carolyn See, who can be reached at www.carolynsee.comDavid Levithan, the author of 'Boy Meets Boy' and 'Wide Awake'Patrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"From Gorky Park onward, this series has always been about the perils of digging...the treasures that Renko seeks always contain the seeds of his own destruction. But somehow digging his own grave is what keeps Renko alive — and keeps us reading." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Smith has come up with one of his most accomplished performances yet and, as with each of its predecessors, takes what in essence is a police procedural and elevates it to the level of absorbing fiction." Los Angeles Times
"Smith's latest, exceptional sequel to Gorky Park is in a league of its own....In his remarkable new tale, the history lessons are not dogmatic or strident but suspenseful and, unlike the majority of sequels you read and soon forget, utterly enthralling." Rocky Mountain News
"Like all of the Arkady Renko novels, Stalin's Ghost is a page-turning thriller. And like those books, it is most effective when examining a society...that is still a mystery to most outsiders." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"[Smith's] plotlines are a few too many and too convoluted to sustain healthy disbelief....Smith is such a pro — such a good, swift, engaging writer — that you don't begrudge him the excess." Chicago Sun-Times
"While the plot goes on to be nastily Byzantine, and the view of contemporary Moscow is painstakingly real, what makes this deathfest a graceful reflection of human passion is the matching arcs of the lives of Arkady and Zhenya, a 12-year-old runaway who finds safe harbor with Arkady." Library Journal
"Now, more than two-and-a-half decades after meeting Arkady Renko, he is an even more interesting character, living up to the promise that he first showed in Gorky Park. Martin Cruz Smith deserves high accolades for his newest in the series." BookReporter.com
Gorky Park's Detective Arkady Renko returns to his Moscow base in Smith's latest entry in the internationally bestselling series about Russian crimes, broken hearts, and the mysteries of the soul.
About the Author
Martin Cruz-Smith's novels include Gorky Park, Rose, December 6, Polar Star, and Stallion Gate. A two-time winner of the Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers and a recipient of Britain's Golden Dagger Award, he lives in California.
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