The reporter Tatiana Petrovna falls to her death from a sixth-floor window in Moscow the same week that a mob billionaire is shot and buried with the trappings due a lord. The trail leads to Kaliningrad, a Cold War “secret city” that is separated by hundreds of miles from the rest of Russia. The more Arkady delves into Tatiana’s past, the more she leads him into a surreal world of wandering sand dunes, abandoned children, and a notebook written in the personal code of a dead translator.
Finally, in a lethal race to uncover what the translator knew, Renko makes a startling discovery that draws him still deeper into Tatiana’s past—and, paradoxically, into Russia’s future, where bulletproof cars, poets, corruption of the Baltic Fleet, and a butcher for hire combine to give Kaliningrad the “distinction” of having the highest crime rate in Russia.
What I Thought
This chess-inspired 8th outing for the cranky melancholy police investigator, Arkady Renko, is a fast-paced romp through the underbelly of corrupt police/politicians/media in Putin’s crumbling modern Russia. Where just about everyone has an agenda hustling from the streets to the highest office, for everything from stolen goods to billion ruble contracts. And where Cruz Smith’s cast of well-drawn characters are all doing their best trying to avoid being collateral damage amid the warring factions.
I enjoyed the pace, which is fairly brisk and doesn’t lag, because a lot of the action is split between a number of the characters, not just our world-weary investigator. While Renko is essentially trying to discover who killed investigative reporter, Tatiana Petrovna, and more importantly, why, he connects her murder to that of recently assassinated mafia kingpin, Grisha Grigorenko. And, as he pieces together snippets of information, he stumbles upon a much larger picture than just revenge, or murder, collusion and corruption at the highest levels.
What I love about Cruz Smith’s writing, is his seedy bunch of twitchy characters doggedly trying to keep ahead of the action, while also dropping in actual historical events into the background—events like the sinking of the Kursk in the Baltic and the utter destruction of the city of Konigsberg (in an isolated slice of Russia abutting the baltic sea) and the building of the secret city of Kaliningrad. And thus, Cruz Smith cleverly draws us into a tangled web of secrets, lies, and corruption.
While Renko engages in a game of cat and mouse with mobsters trying to find answers to Tatiana’s murder, his old friend and partner, Victor, along with Zhenya and his girlfriend Lotte, are left behind in Moscow trying to unravel a mystery of their own, never mind survive being murdered. Of course, all the loose ends slowly begin to make connections, leading to a confrontation along with a number of revelations and an open-ending finale that tells us that even Renko cannot bring everyone to justice in a world ruled by corruption.
I can highly recommend this one if you enjoy a good thriller with plenty of misdirection, well-drawn characters, snappy dialogue. This one has plenty of grit and background detail that all helped bring Tatiana to life.
TATIANA (Arkady Renko #8)
Martin Cruz Smith
Simon & Schuster