RED SQUARE by Martin Cruz Smith


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 Inspector Arkady Renko, banished to a Soviet factory-ship in Polar Star (1989), returns to Moscow on the eve of the Coup--and steps into the kind of intrigue, atmosphere, and excitement not seen from Smith since Renko's megaselling debut in Gorky Park (1981). The winds of glasnost may have blown the insubordinate Renko back from exile, but they've also stirred up the Soviet Union's criminal class, which now rules the land hand-in-crooked-hand with the Party's panicking elite--as shown in the mesmerizing opening scene that has Renko meeting with an informer at Moscow's thriving nighttime black market. Minutes after Renko exits the informer's car, it explodes under the impact of two bombs. Why? Renko pursues leads that take him on a spellbinding tour of Moscow (here, a starving city spinning out of control) as he encounters the new Soviet capitalism (a shady entrepreneur who, with green paint and cutout trees, has transformed a bullet-casing factory into an indoor golfing range); the new Soviet mafia (the Chechens, Muslim gangsters ruled by a withered devil named Makhmud); and the old, power-grasping rear guard. A mysterious fax sends Renko chasing a further lead abroad to Munich, where he reunites with Irina, his forsaken lover from Gorky Park. Here, the narrative slackens into a lovers' awkward waltz between Renko and Irina, and between Renko and the material temptations of the West--though it picks up with a sidetrip to Berlin, the ghastly murder of Makhmud, and revelations of stolen art treasures at the root of the killings. The action climaxes on a note of astonishing grace and hope back in Moscow, as Renko concludes his case and joins the radiant masses facing down the tanks on the steps of Boris Yeltsin's White House. A bit long and choppy, but brimming with political insight and psychological nuance, and a powerful reaffirmation of Renko's love/hate for Russia as one of the great romances of thriller fiction. (Literary Guild Dual Selection for December)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-679-41688-9
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1992


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