It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since Martin Cruz Smith‘s epic novel, Gorky Park, which was set in 1970s Cold War Russia and featured Moscow detective Arkady Renko investigating a murder in his frozen city’s famous park. Fast forward to modern day where British author Tom Rob Smith‘s outstanding first novel, Child 44, features a chilling murder mystery set two decades before Renko in the post-Stalin and pre-Kruschev Russia of the early 1950s. What makes Child 44 and its lead character Leo Demidov so interesting is that under Stalinst Communism there was no such thing as a murder nor a police force to investigate murder. When a child in Moscow dies under suspicious circumstances, it is labeled as suicide by investigators — including Demidov. However, Demidov — a war hero turned MGB officer — soon realizes that similar deaths have happened across the country and he begins an investigation that risks not only his job, but also his life. Not only do the authors share a surname, but both of their Russian investigators also share a devotion to their job, their community and their conscience when it comes to solving gruesome murders that puts them into danger. The older Smith set the standard and followed with several outstanding Renko novels. It’s safe to say the younger Smith and Demidov are following in those footsteps.
Posts Tagged Moscow
Every now-and-then, I find a book that takes months to read — I struggle through the first part, before finally hunkering down and finishing it. The debut novel by former intelligence officer Joseph Finder, The Moscow Club is one of those books. It’s not a bad book — it’s far from that — it’s just a very heavy book. It has the furious action scenes that are reminiscent of Robert Ludlum and international intrigue that will remind you of Frederick Forsythe. But it also has a slow, methodical and often scholarly feel to it when it comes to the historical and political and Cold War aspects, both Russian and American. As someone who is a huge fan of Cold War novels, it took some time to warm up, but once things were in motion, I really started to enjoy it. Unfortunately, if you have not read John le Carre or Forsythe or Daniel Silva and don’t appreciate the art of the espionage and counter-espionage storyline, this 500-page story may be a little much for you. But then again, if you are curious about the Cold War or world politics near the end of the Cold War or Russia during the time of Gorbachev, this novel would be of great interest to you.
I really enjoyed the first two books written by Boris Starling — Messiah and Storm — and I was expecting more of the same in Vodka, especially after one of the reviewers compared Starling to Martin Cruz Smith, obviously since the spectacular crime novel Gorky Park was also set in Moscow. However, for the first 300 pages of Vodka, crime took a backseat to an unlikely romance between American banker Alice Liddell and Russian mafia kingpin — and politician — Lev (no last name given). Somehow, the beautiful Liddell falls for the nearly seven foot tall tattooed not very handsome member of the Russian vory. In addition to the romance, the story also focuses on the Russian economy following the end of communism as Liddell is hired to privatize Lev’s Vodka distillery, Red October. The book dragged for me for those 300 pages and I considered not finishing it. However, after several attempts, I finally continued — and finished — the book and I’m glad I did. Things pick up in the last 300 pages as crime takes front seat to finance as Estonian detective Juku Irk tracks the killer of several young orphans. If you like reading about business and the economy, this book will explain those concepts from the Russian perspective, where the black market under communism may have given them a better understanding of capitalism than those of us who have lived under it for our entire lives. If you like vodka, this book is a guide to the myriad different types and flavors of the drink that is the fabric of Russia. And finally, if you love crime — and especially international crime — this book provides a glimpse into the struggles of fighting crime in a country where the police receive little or no equipment, resources or pay. Things are even worse for Irk, who is not considered a Russian by most of those he meets. Hopefully, Starling will revive the Irk character in a future novel, similar to Arkady Renko appearing in a subsequent Smith novel.