Tatiana – Martin Cruz Smith


The last of the currently available Renko books, I read this in almost a single session, and loved every bit of it.

It begins with three deaths. First, an international translator is killed in Russia. His notes of the last (secret) meeting he attended, are in his own graphical code, and seemingly impossible to crack. Then a young reporter apparently commits suicide by jumping off her balcony. Finally, Russian oligarch Grisha Grigorenko is assassinated. Enter Renko…

This time around, Renko ends up in Kaliningrad (formerly Konigsberg), as he continues his crusade against the massed ranks of criminals that seem to populate modern Russia. This particular Renko story is shorter than the rest (as I recall) and fairly rattles along.

Another finely crafted novel, and a superb example of economical prose delivering a complete character, world, and adventure. Great stuff.

Three Stations – Martin Cruz Smith


Investigator Arkady Renko is a loose cannon, now even more than before because he has been suspended from the Moscow prosecutor’s office. Apparently people in high places do not like him uncovering their dirty deeds. But Renko is an unstoppable force for good (in truth, a fair assessment of the power of this character) and when he is inadvertently at the scene of what looks like the suicide of a young addict and prostitute, it sets him off.

Renko moves from the underbelly of organized crime, through the abused population of Moscow, to the high society of equally organized crime, tracking down the clues and the links, unraveling the murky fog, and catching the bad guy. Through the hunt, there is a sort of side issue of a mother searching for her stolen baby, aided and abetted by Renko’s almost adopted son.

Once again, the author delivers a crisp, fast, and sharp tale. The plot is well paced, the storytelling is masterful, and the characters grow and grow. All the while, the setting – observed with empathy despite is gaping flaws – stacks up like some gothic, threatening, monstrous shadow.

If the book has one disappointing part, it may be the ending. It’s not a bad ending, but I was not convinced it had the same gravitas as the preceding narrative. Still, it was a cracking read.

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.