Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Tatiana - Martin Cruz Smith

Like everybody else, I read Gorky Park when it came out thirty-plus years ago. I later read Stallion Gate, which I loved. I wanted to read Rose but never came across a copy. And now here is Tatiana from 2013 and Arkady Renko, hero of Gorky Park, is still going strong.

He's had a tough time in the intervening thirty years. For one thing, time runs differently for him and he is only perhaps a dozen years older than he was in Gorky Park. He has a bullet rattling round his skull and an adopted sort-of son. He may have had DS Victor Orlov as a sidekick in the old days; if so, I don't remember. Orlov is the cop other writers would have made their protagonist - dark, drunken, violent, but rock solid on the side of the angels. Cruz chose Renko, the outsider, the man of principle, who could have risen to the top of the tree if only he had been prepared to play dirty.

Russia, of course, has changed completely since the Eighties. For one thing it's Russia instead of the USSR. Those who would once have risen to power through the Party, now rise through gangsterism. Mob bosses are billionaires. Honest cops and investigative journalists, however, remain the enemies of the state.

Tatiana is an investigative journalist. She has jumped to her death from her rundown apartment. Renko doesn't believe it. It is not his case. He is supposed to covering up whoever it was shot billionaire hoodlum Grisha Grigorenko. Tatiana and the late Grigorenko lead him to Kaliningrad, the capital of organised crime, where he also commits to solving the murder of a high-price interpreter by a man driving a butcher's van with a happy plastic pig on top.

It's the story details that make Cruz Smith's novels stand out from the rest. Here, amongst many others, we have the Ferrari of sports bikes, chess hustling, the interpreter's personal shorthand system. Some of the characters are more interesting than others. You've just got to love a capo di capo called Ape Beledon. Most important of all is the authorial control. He has a lot of material - he is determined to explore the psyche of his hero and, to a lesser extent, those close to his hero - but he never forgets that this is a thriller. It's purpose is to excite the reader. Which it certainly does. Pure reading pleasure.

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