POLAR STAR by Martin Cruz Smith
Kirkus Star


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A Gorky Park sequel that finds Arkady Renko, disgraced Moscow cop-hero of that 1981 best seller, hiding out on a Russian factory ship (the Polar Star)--and up to his dour ears in an intricately textured but slow-drifting mess of murder, drug smuggling, and political intrigue. Tossed into a psychiatric ward for the "political unreliability" he evinced in Gorky Park, Arkady has escaped to Siberia and is now toiling on the "slime line" of a giant floating food-processing plant, part of a joint Soviet-US venture in the Bering Strait. When the stabbed body of female crew member Zina Patiashvili surfaces with the fishing nets, the ship's captain asks reluctant Arkady to investigate. Troubles crowd in at once: pressure from the Ship's political officer to declare the murder an accident or suicide; resentment by crews both Yank and Russian of Arkady's bulldogged questioning; a scary attempt by unknown assasilants on Arkady's life by locking him into a deep-freezer. A docking by the Polar Star at the American base of Dutch Harbor brings a second attempt and reveals a mortal enemy--Karp Korobetz, a hard-core criminal whom Arkady arrested for murder years before in Moscow and who now locks Arkady into a burning cabin. But fire proves no more fatal than ice to our hero, who busts out and who, as the Polar Star heads north into the ice pack, divides his time between hiding from Karp (most effectively, in the bed of American crew rep Susan Hightower); unraveling an espionage subplot; and digging out Zina's killer--not Karp, but one of Karp's Yank partners in a drug-smuggling conspiracy. Two violent deaths--one a bizarre suicide--climax the novel and lead to Arkady's professional and political redemption. As with Gorky Park, here it's the myriad glimpses of Soviet life that matter most: the Christmas-like wonder on the faces of Soviet sailors surveying electronic goods in an American store; the psychological insights ("Russian men saw themselves as wolves, lean and wild"), the details of food, talk, sex. But gone is the prequel's vigor and kink, and Arkady's charisma too: he's fully fleshed but tired, just like the mystery/suspense element. A distinguished chiller, then, but not a particularly enjoyable one--like good vodka gone warm.
Pub Date: July 17th, 1989
ISBN: 0345498178
Page count: 402pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1989


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