GORKY PARK by Martin Cruz Smith
Kirkus Star


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If this essentially conventional suspense plot--police procedural with government coverups--were set in Washington, it would add up to well-written, unremarkable entertainment. But Smith (Nightwing) places his thriller in Moscow; and though one isn't always fully convinced of his political authenticity or his characters' genuine Russian-ness, there's enough irreverent, uncliched local Soviet color here--more than in any recent US popular fiction--to lift the proceedings to a near-compelling level. Three bodies have been found under frozen snow in Moscow's congenial Gorky Park: the faces have been carved away, the fingertips removed, the teeth shattered; there are no clues to their identity except a foreign (US?) tooth filling, the ice-skates on the dead feet, and dust suggesting a connection to the forged-ikon black-market. So Chief Homicide Investigator Arkady Renko--a war hero's son and a bad Party member (his unfaithful wife is a good Party member)--zeroes in on Moscow's foreign visitors, on the black-market, on movie-company employee Irina (owner of one of the pairs of skates). And his hunches almost immediately fix on sleek US fur-importer John Osborne--hunches confirmed by the subsequent murder of a black-marketeer witness. But why would rich Osborne kill for some semi-valuable ikons? And though two of the victims seem to have been Siberian, what of the American victim--whose brother (a N.Y. cop who lavishes scorn on Arkady's methods) is sleuthing around on his own? And why is the KGB--or Arkady's boss--obstructing the investigation? (A KGB man steals the reconstructed head of one of the victims.) The answer is sable, Russia's choicest monopoly; but Arkady's shrewd detection merely lands him in KGB custody. And in the States-side finale (a Staten Island shootout) he and new-love Irina become pawns as Russia tries to get back its precious animals from wily thief Osborne. . . . An only-serviceable plot, rather too talkily slow-paced; and the Arkady/Irina romance is shrill (political) and unconvincing. But the textures are the point here--dour humor, the everydayness of paranoia, caviar in the steambath (for some), dirty snow and red tape--and they're richly specific enough to make this a special sort of suspense treat: bitter-cold and vodka-sharp.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0812977246
Page count: 380pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1981


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