In Smith’s latest Arkady Renko novel, the Russian investigator seeks the truth about a young reporter’s apparent suicide.
Tatiana Petrovna is one of the last occupants of a Kaliningrad apartment building that developers want to raze. When she falls six stories to her death, authorities are quick to rule the tragedy as a suicide. Renko suspects otherwise and gets his boss’ permission to look into it. The young woman had been a troublemaker, with a nose for rooting out the corruption widely known to be rampant in Russia, so few people seem to miss her. Renko can’t view the body, because police say they are unable to produce it. This certainly won’t stop him, though. Fans of his earlier adventures (Gorky Park, 1981; Red Square, 1992) know he’s not a flashy fellow, perhaps in part because he walks around with a bullet lodged in his skull. But he is an honorable man, persistent in asking questions, raising doubts and following leads. At the center of the plot is a notebook that appears to be filled with symbols looking like gibberish. Can Renko find someone to decipher it? Sitting on the Baltic seacoast, Kaliningrad is portrayed as a bleak industrial city that’s probably on no one’s vacation itinerary. The novel suggests a deep cynicism pervading Russian society, where officials and businessmen are expected to bribe and steal. For example, submarines costing hundreds of millions of dollars may sink into the ocean and never resurface since half the money goes to graft instead of craft. Smith is a master storyteller, delivering sharp dialogue, a tight plot, memorable descriptions and an understated hero in Arkady Renko.
Anyone who enjoys crime novels but hasn’t read Smith is in for a treat. Read this book, then look for other Arkady Renko adventures.