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Gorky Park (Volume 1): Martin Cruz Smith (The Arkady Renko Novels)

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One of the refreshing things about this is it allows a reader to reframe American Crime fiction and ask, how does our system also create an atmosphere that prevents crime from being resolved.

During the trip Arkady realizes that, to avoid a diplomatic incident, the FBI agents plan to let Osborne kill him and Irina before allowing KGB agents, who are tailing them, to kill Osborne.Arkady Renko, a chief investigator for the Moscow militia, is a one man Don Quichote who wants justice for the three dead people in Gorky Park, an amusement park in Moscow. In 1981, when Smith published Gorky Park, the Berlin Wall had yet to fall, and Glasnost wasn't yet a twinkle in Gorbachev's eye. Why would a government put Stalin, who was Georgian, and Khrushchev, who was Ukrainian, in power if the policies were so racist against non-Russians? Was it possible – did he have the imagination – to create some elaborate case full of mysterious foreigners, black marketeers and informers, a whole population of fictitious vapors rising off three corpses? And the hunt for the killer begins… It begins with a triple murder in a Moscow amusement center: three corpses found frozen in the snow, faces and fingers missing.

It’s set in the 1980s in Russia, which was a very, very different time wrought with political nitty-gritties that most people aren’t completely aware of. To convince Irina that Valerya is dead, Arkady sets up a situation in which he is going to show her Professor Andreev's reconstruction, even though by this point the reconstruction has been destroyed by Renko's higher-ups. Finding three bodies buried in the snow in Gorky park, Renko is hampered by his own bosses in trying to find some form of justice for the dead. While I found the settings fascinating (Moscow, Siberia and New York in Soviet era times) and the descriptions very atmospheric, I found my lack of knowledge of Soviet era Russia slightly hindered my understanding of the seemingly over-complex plot. I’ve already purchased the next book in the series, grateful that unlike Peter Hoeg’s book, Renko lives on for another seven books.

The last few chapters were a rollercoaster as the action decamps to the USA and I think I held my breath for the entirety of the penultimate chapter. It’s the early ‘80s and three bodies have been found under the snow in Moscow’s Gorky Park with their fingertips removed and their faces peeled off to prevent identification. Renko's love interest, Irina, was likewise revealed to have been institutionalized for similarly false "psychiatric problems" and forcibly treated at some earlier time, resulting in a tumor that left her with a severe facial blemish and blind in one eye. In Smith’s Gorky Park, the scientist is one Professor Andreev from the University of Moscow; and while the professor normally (and wisely) stays away from anything that could be considered political, he is intrigued enough in this instance to take on the professional challenge of reconstructing the faces of the Gorky Park victims. Instead, they each want him to say he solved the crimes with a falsified story pointing fingers in a direction each department head wants.

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