Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith
I'm not saying I've become obsessed with Rules for Perfect Murders but if it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, then I'm probably obsessed with Rules for Perfect Murders. I have found myself becoming a bit obsessed with Malcolm Kershaw, the main protagonist in the Perfect Murders book and his carefully curated lists of crime fiction. Which is how I found myself reading Gorky Park as it appears on his list of books for 'Mysteries for a Snowy Night'.
As we have just had a bout of snowy weather, this seemed like the perfect book to curl up with as in the novel we are transported to a very snowy Russia. I seem to be having a mini-run of books about Russia at the moment, first Pasternak, now this. And in the forthcoming weeks I will be reading probably the greatest Russian novel of all - War and Peace with one of my very good chums on Instagram. I'll keep you posted how this goes. Now let's get going with the review of Gorky Park.
Should I read the Arkady Renko Books in Order?
In a short word yes. First published in 1981, Gorky Park is the first book to feature Chief Investigator Arkady Renko. Written by Martin Cruz Smith, Arkady Renko goes on to feature in nine other novels. I have not read any of the others, but a quick scout on the internet suggests that it is worth reading them in order. In book two for example, you understand how Renko has come to lose his party membership, a lot of background of which is in Gorky Park. So I would go ahead and read them in order. At the end of the post will be a full list of Martin Cruz Smith books, with the Arkady Renko series in order.
The other note is to say that these are violent and bloody books. I'm usually OK with this, I love a good forensic crime as much as the next person, but even I found myself wincing a bit at times.
Chief Investigator Arkady Renko is called to a brutal triple murder in Gorky Park. The victims have been badly mutilated meaning their identities cannot be verified. Renko must uncover who the three victims are, and solve their murders. Set in early 1980s Russia, Renko must also carefully negotiate the tricky balance when working with the KGB and navigate the secrecy of post Stalinist Russia.
Martin Cruz Smith has really created a mood for this book. Russia is beautifully portrayed - marvellous scenery and atmosphere but with a stench of corruption and lies. And yet beloved by her countrymen.
Arkady is a fascinating lead character, almost as flawed as the country he loves. He is a loose cannon, determined at all costs to solve the murder, and paying mere lip service to the Party - letting his membership lapse and unwilling to be bribed or 'influenced'. His personal life is a mess and again this provides a fascinating insight into Russian lives at a time when we knew little about this country.
It was also fascinating to learn how foreign visitors to Russia were treated - pretty much given free rein, and welcomed with open arms, but monitored closely and recorded during the entirety of their stay. They are also heavily protected during the investigation to the frustration of Renko, when it becomes obvious there is an element of foreign involvement.
The last few chapters were a rollercoaster as the action decamps to the USA and I think I held my breath for the entirety of the penultimate chapter.
Peter Swanson has got it bang on, this is a book for a mood. I started it during a snowy day and it echoed the coldness around me. A very involving lead character and an evocative atmosphere. I would happily read more about Renko.