Stalin’s Ghost – Martin Cruz Smith


Arkady Renko, at one time a high flyer in the Moscow Police, is now an outcast. He gets crap jobs to do, and is kept away from the important stuff. So, that’s why he is asked to look into reports of sightings of Stalin’s Ghost in the Moscow underground. But being Renko, it turns out to be more than a fringe event.

Renk is a great, complex character, and this author can write. He tells a story with such cracking economy, but manages to fill the reader’s imagination with the atmosphere of Moscow and the cultural challenges that it offers, as well as the crime, the corruption, and the wheeling and dealing of day to day life.

There are other characters of note: Zhenya, the young tearaway who is also a chess prodigy is a fine example, as is Victor Orlov, the somewhat alcoholic detective firmly on Renko’s side. Meantime, Renko has other cases, and his love life is somewhat on a downward spiral. But the book still keeps us focused on Renko, and brings in the disparate lines of the plot when necessary.

The action moves from Moscow to Tver (formerly Kalinin) as Renko tries to get to the bottom of Stalin’s Ghost. If Renko was an outcast in Moscow, in Tver he is the enemy. It all races along towards the inevitable conclusion.

This is a dark, authentic, powerful novel dealing with the evil underbelly of the former Soviet Union in a sympathetic, but judgmental fashion. It’s well worth reading.