Thursday, March 20, 2008

Stalin’s Ghost

It’s been 26 years since Martin Cruz Smith wrote GORKY PARK and first introduced the world to Arkady Renko. His latest Renko book, STALIN’S GHOST, is only the sixth in the series. Books like this cannot be rushed. Smith writes intriguing mysteries with page turning suspense, but they are also so much more. The prose is brilliant, the characters memorable, the descriptions and atmosphere haunting, the stories thought-provoking and enriching. In short, these are stunning works of literature that also happen to be cracking good reads. An all-too-rare combination.

One of the aspects of this series I particularly love is the way Smith has used Renko to illustrate the profound changes that have rocked Russia in the past two decades. In Gorky Park we saw the painfully honorable and ethical Renko struggling for justice in the crazy, upside down world of a moribund and corrupt Soviet regime. Polar Star (my personal favorite) brought us a disgraced Renko trying to survive as the Soviet world collapsed around him. By the time of Red Square, Russia is being torn apart by criminals and capitalism at its most ruthless and destructive. Wolves Eat Dogs, set in Chernobyl, shows us a Russia ravaged by billionaire oligarchs. Now, in Stalin’s Ghost, we see a Russia whose battered citizens are yearning for the glory days of the past while the secret police and Special Forces begin to reassert control.

Through it all, Arkady emerges as one of literature’s great characters. He may be brilliant, but he is not always wise, for in Russia (as in the US), an ethical man truly dedicated to justice will soon fall afoul of the system and his superiors. Once alienated from and disturbed by the coercive, mind-numbing form of Communism implemented in the Soviet Union, Renko is now troubled by the rampant greed and human toll of unbridled capitalism. Loyal to his friends and those he loves, he views the foibles of the world around him with a black wit that makes for highly entertaining reading.

I have one Smith book left—December 6, a historical set at the outbreak of World War II. I’ve been stretching his books out, savoring them in between lesser reads. He is a true master, with much to teach aspiring writers. If I get my thoughts organized, I may make that the subject of a future blog.


Charles Gramlich said...

I have several more of his books to read so I'm in pretty good shape. I'd be intersted in seeing your blog post take on him, though.

Lisa said...

I read GORKY PARK (I can't believe it's been that long ago) and I thought it was brilliant. I never went back and read any more of him, but I think I'll have to now. I agree with your assessment on his work. He's wonderful.

Steve Malley said...

I've just gone to my TBR shelf and bumped Mr Smith's work up several spots.

You're a persuasive salesman, Candy...

Sphinx Ink said...

I love Martin Cruz Smith's work, too. I still have two or three of his books I haven't read yet, including STALIN'S GHOST. Arkady Renko is one of my favorite literary heroes. I may go back and re-read the entire Renko series.

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