Joyce Lagow's Reviews > Gorky Park

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith
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's review
Apr 20, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: mystery

Written in 1981, this book has had something of a cult status as one of the first popular entries in the international mystery/thriller genre. It is the first in the Arkady Renko series, the second being published much later, in 1988.[return][return]Arkady Renko is a chief investigator in the Moscow militia, the police section of the MVD. As opposed to the KGB, which investigates cases related to security, the militia are usually concerned with domestic violence, drunkenness and the occasional murder. Moscow, under communist rule, is ostensibly one of he safest cities in the world, since crimes that don fit the socialist definition of acceptable are merely defined out of sight. But Renko s job is usually fairly dull.[return][return]Until 3 bodies, clearly homicides, are found in Gorky Park, a popular amusement center in Moscow s heart. The KGB shows both an unusual interest and a complete lack of willingness to step in and investigate these murders, particularly odd since one of the victims is most likely a foreigner. Renko, who smells a rat, is determined to make a case that will force the KGB to take the case off his hands.[return][return]The plot is excellent, building up in tension and with enough twists to keep the interest high. Set in 1977, Russian life under Brezhnev was not as bad as in the Stalinist era, but was still highly regimented and repressive; dissent was not allowed, although the mass murders and purges of the Stalinist era were gone. But rigid allegiance to the party line was necessary for any kind of decent life, and obligatory for career advancement. Smith ,as part of the story, shows what daily life for Muscovites was like the hardships, the lack of decent consumer goods, the regimentation and it is very well done.[return][return]What is a very nice surprise is that 27 years later, the writing is still good not dated, but taut and spare, portraying both the mood of the average Soviet citizen and the lives they were forced to lead and an excellent plot line. Even given the events over the past 3 decades, the story line does not seem outdated at all merely a Russian police procedural set in a particular era, which I think is an achievement. His characters seem almost contemporary, and are well-drawn.[return][return]Almost 30 years old, this is still a good read. Highly recommended.
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