Monday, 10 December 2018

Stalin's Ghost - Martin Cruz Smith

Stalin's Ghost comes before Tatiana (reviewed below) in the decade-spanning Renko series. The tone and various characters are common to both. Renko, once the highest of high flyers, is hanging on to his job with his fingertips. A measure of how far he has fallen is that, when passengers claim to have seen the ghost of the late Stalin in an underground Metro station, Renko is put on the case. Needless to say, this is not what either the case or the book is really about.

Renko is shot in the head by the father of his more-or-less adopted son, the street chess prodigy Zhenko. His bosses in Moscow use the excuse to banish him to the backwater city of Tver. It is Renko himself who requests Tver because his lover Eva has left him for the Special Forces hero turned celebrity cop Nikolai Isakov who is standing for the Russian Patriot party in the forthcoming election - and Isakov is grounding his campaign in his home city of Tver.

The plot is complex and I don't believe all strands are fully wrapped up. There is a book between Stalin's Ghost and Tatiana (Three Stations, published in 2010) and it may be that they are completed there. The characters are brilliant, as ever with Smith. Even one of the prostitutes on the Metro train sticks in the memory. Zhenko is annoying because he is a teenage boy. Eva is infuriating because she is unreliable.

And as always Smith's prose, simple yet refined, is a pleasure to read.

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