unknown's Reviews > Gorky Park

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2011, audiobooks

There's this concept in fantasy writing, world-building? Sci-fi too. It's pretty self-explanatory: because these books are not taking place in our universe, it's up to the author to give us all the details -- to paint the picture, provide shading in just the right places, ensure we can tell what we are supposed to be looking at. Economics, politics, interpersonal relations, language, gender roles, humor... This can be done well, emphasizing just here and embellishing just there, so the empty spaces also fill in the canvas. Or it can be done poorly, cramming in everything, and we wind up with Where's Waldo, and no one can figure out what the hell is happening. Martin Cruz Smith is a really good world-builder. I mean, he's writing about a real place, but it doesn't exist anymore, as such, so I don't think that makes his job any easier.

Granted, I have no idea what life was like in the Soviet Union in the early '80s, and maybe the author didn't either. But this is a fully realized world, a backdrop that adds a great deal of freshness to yet another twisty detective thriller. Part of the reason Stieg Larsson books created a new genre in the U.S. (well, sort of -- the Swedish location-specific murder genre) are his weirdly obsessive descriptions of the Swedish landscape, which gave readers something to focus on while Lisbeth was shopping at Ikea. Here, the sense of place is as compelling (with weather as miserable); the plot and writing, a lot better.

Arkady Renko is a great character. He knows how the system works, sees no problem in "losing" the files on a few murder cases to keep the crime rate low and the politicians happy. Yet he refuses to follow the party line, pisses off the wrong people, follows leads when he has no vested interest, not even a strong desire for justice. He just wants to be right. He is assigned to the case of three corpses found shot and mutilated in a famous park, and it seems like he keeps working on it for no reason other than the fact that it violated his personal sensibility that it's uncouth to murder people in a place where people come to relax, commiserate with friends, maybe do some ice skating.

The plot is pretty complicated, as you'd expect, but the trappings (you'll see what I did there in a second) are pretty fun. Without giving too much away, everything ties into the international fur trade, and if Martin Cruz Smith is right, it's a bloody business.

This is a Russian sable:

This is a Russian sable fur coat:

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It costs about $150,000, and requires dozens of pelts. If you would wear this coat, you are an asshole. Same for a hat. Case in point:

The tail-end gets a bit droopy -- Renko loses his shit and goes into a pity spiral, and there's all this mirroring of the ways the U.S. and Communist Russia are totally opposite but equally rotten, but then there's an intense final chase sequence that got me muttering at my iPod to hurry up and get it over with, so I guess that worked out. Otherwise, the female characters are no great shakes, but I've read a lot worse on that count.

Some enterprising bookstore clerk needs to put this series on an endcap when the Dragon Tattoo movie comes out in December, because it is aching to be rediscovered.
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Reading Progress

August 16, 2010 – Shelved
May 21, 2011 – Started Reading
May 21, 2011 – Shelved as: 2011
May 21, 2011 – Shelved as: audiobooks
May 24, 2011 –
page 75
May 25, 2011 –
page 130
May 26, 2011 –
page 190
June 2, 2011 –
page 257
June 3, 2011 –
page 329
June 3, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)

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message 1: by Mir (new)

Mir he's writing about a real place, but it doesn't exist anymore, as such, so I don't think that makes his job any easier.

Actually, I think this is harder than fantasy because you have to really do the research or someone will call you on the mistakes.

unknown Miriam wrote: "Actually, I think this is harder than fantasy because you have to really do the research or someone will call you on the mistakes."

true, unless your reader is totally uninformed on the subject, in which case it might as well be taking place in narnia.

i mean, i'm not totally uninformed. but i was like, yeah, that seems like a plausible depiction of late communist-era russia to me.

message 3: by Mir (new)

Mir That's why I said "someone". Obviously most readers won't know the difference, and many do not care about accuracy. But eventually someone who does care will draw attention to your mistakes. And the better your writing is the more likely you are to get a well-informed reviewer, I think.

These are general comments, btw, not aimed at Smith. As far as I've been told he is quite accurate.

message 4: by unknown (last edited Jun 10, 2011 09:59AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

unknown oh i know. i was just pointing out that, for me, it was kind of like reading fantasy because it took me into a world i know nothing about. because i am uninformed.

i do know people delight in attacking authors' accuracy. a bunch of people got mad a connie willis for blackout because, like, tube stops were wrong.

message 5: by Mir (last edited Jun 10, 2011 11:12AM) (new)

Mir That's very American (both Willis getting it wrong and you not caring). I think for most of us (Americans) other countries might as well be, as you say, Narnia. But for someone from London that would be a really jarring and obvious mistake. I really notice if an author sets something in San Francisco and gets the geography wrong. I think if you're not good at keeping straight that sort of detail it is better not to write scenes that are overly specific. Especially if you haven't actually lived in the place you're writing about.

unknown i don't see how it's a strictly american thing. i mean, how can anyone get irritated and inaccurate detail unless they know the facts? i've read books and said "hey, that's wrong!" before but if i hadn't known, it isn't that i wouldn't care, i wouldn't even notice. someone telling me later that the bus actually goes the other way is going to sound like nit-picking.

message 7: by Mir (new)

Mir If you don't know the facts than errors won't detract from your enjoyment, but if you do they may, so authors should do their best to have the right information. I'm not talking about Willis particularly, since I haven't read that book and have no clue whether she was right or not.

message 8: by Hirondelle (new)

Hirondelle Sorry to barge in on the conversation, but factual mistakes *matter*. Pointing them out, being upset with them is not "attacking the author". This might be related to a reader´s background, some people might have an easier time forgiving "artistic liberties"; others, on stuff which is supposed to be *true* demand it to be as true as possible. I am on the second group, personally I blame it on a science-oriented education, that if something is wrong is WRONG and an error. Though I think what kind of reader regarding things one is, is not as simple as to which of the two cultures you belong to.

In Willis´s books, I did mind a lot of inaccuracies. The subway stops and lines I do not know well enough to mind, but if you know a place and are visualizing it, it can totally jerk you off the suspension of disbelief if it´s wrong. Mind you, Willis spends a lot of time, too much time, with her characters worrying about the specific route they are going to take, so don´t blame readers for spotting that (on a couple occasions I was thinking ffs, just walk, it´s about 20 minutes!). But there were other mistakes, one I felt specifically betrayed for, she uses the wrong, US-only, title of an Agatha Christie novel. I did not know it was the US-only title, thought it was a different novel, a new novel and a CLUE that was an alternate universe. But no, apparently not, she just has british students, on british soil on two different eras think of a novel by the title it was known for a couple decades in the USA and only in the USA. Why on earth should I respect that authorial decision?

message 9: by Glee (new)

Glee I like Martin Cruz Smith's stuff. Haven't read any in a while, but I love Arkady. When I started reading Michael Connelly's books, I thought of Arkady when getting to "know" Harry Bosch. Brilliant detectives that no one can work with, self-destructive, and absolutely compelling. I do think Smith knew a fair amount about USSR/Russia during Cold War; anyway he knew enough to get himself on some Russian "spy/enemies of the state lists"....

unknown very interesting! he does seem verrry well-informed about the kgb...

message 11: by Mir (last edited Jun 12, 2011 10:19AM) (new)

Mir Hee. We should find a chiropterist(?) and ask whether they think his bat information is accurate. Aside from bat violence defamation, I mean. Nightwing by Martin Cruz Smith

message 12: by Glee (new)

Glee Miriam wrote: "Hee. We should find a chiropterist(?) and ask whether they think his bat information is accurate. Aside from bat violence defamation, I mean. Nightwing by Martin Cruz Smith"

oooo. never read anything by him that wasn't Arkady related, I don't think. Is Nightwing any good? The blurb just makes it sound horror-y, which I don't always like. As in Stephen King sometimes/most times. Although his stuff is usually another variant of "life is hard, and then you die" -- his are "something extremely improbable (and never explained) happens, life is harder, and then you die"....

unknown nightwing was made into a schlocky-sounding movie.

not to say i thought the movie for gorky park was that great, but i saw it about a decade ago (i certainly didn't remember the plot when i was reading the book). it was written by dennis potter though! that's something.

message 14: by Mir (new)

Mir Nightwing is indeed schlocky. I read it in my middle-school horror phase. I mainly remember being disappointed there were no *actual* vampires.

It was confusing to me later to discover that Smith was actually a serious writer.

message 15: by Ryan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ryan Williams The novel was published in 1981.

So long as you know.

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