I recognize I am about twenty-five years late reading this novel that put Martin Cruz Smith on the map. A couple of years ago, I read "Wolves Eat Dogs", another installment in the Arkady Renko series, and loved it. I never thought to pursue the entire series until recently, when in attendance at a dinner party, a fellow book lover and fan of Smith recommended that I do. Better late than never, I always say!
This novel I believe is the first to kick off a series about a Russian police investigator, Arkady Renko. He is a smart but flawed, melancholy personality, struggling with his personal ethics that are constantly matched up against the political mess that exists in Russian and the KGB. In this installment, he is assigned to investigate the discovery of three faceless, fingerless bodies found in Gorky Park, an amusement attraction in the center of Moscow. He soon finds that there is a bigger, more malevolent force behind these deaths...criss-crossed threads and connections that seems impossible to untangle. He crosses paths with and ultimately falls for a beautiful girl right in the thick of things. Murder, deception, greed and conspiracy resides in nearly everyone surrounding Arkady, but still doesn't dismantle his glimmer of hope for a simpler, happier life.
This is a classic, gritty thriller with the special gift of "aboutness". I recently discovered this term when I was researching Smith (can't find the blog again to save my soul), but basically means it provides the reader everything they need to know about the environment where the story takes place. You learn as you read, and take something away with you at the end. From this novel, you truly feel immersed in what it might have been like to live in Russia in the '80's. The characters' personalities are rich, colorful and blemished in all the ways we humans are. You believe you know these people. I had some difficulty, probably because it was audio, with keeping the Russian names straight in my mind. But I was drawn in, nevertheless. I felt something close to heartbreak at the end with Arkady's desperate need for love competing with his drive to do the right thing. I will be reading about the rest of Arkady's adventures now, and will add this series to the ever expanding list of crime series that haunt me!