Martin Cruz Smith

Stalin’s Ghost

"… a very well written book"


It is deep winter in Moscow and Arkady Renko, a maverick detective, is called in to investigate reports of Stalin appearing on the last metro of the night. If that was not enough, he is competing with a colleague for the affections of his girlfriend Eva. This particular colleague has a troubling record in the war in Chechyna, where Eva had volunteered to tend the sick.

As momentum gathers, Renko is embroiled in an increasingly dangerous investigation where the ghosts of Russian political life, ancient and modern crowd in and seem to be vying for his destruction, and nearly succeed.

Only the unearthing of the bodies from the second world war, a war which Renko's father fought with deadly distinction, can atone for and answer the riddles posed by the recent dead piling up alarmingly at Renko's feet.

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This is an ambitious novel as it tries to bring together the nature of Russian identity against a backdrop of bloody recent history. In the main it succeeds, bringing to life modern Russian life with all its heroic and seedy features. Indeed, the author manages to tie many themes successfully together. He explores how the communist horrors of Stalin reflect the current terrors in Putin's Russia; reflecting that the “glories” of Stalingrad and the defence of Russia against the Nazis are used to prolong and increase the grip of the state on ordinary Russians. But there is more, much more. The crime ridden and sordid features of modern, cash rich Moscow and the abject and continuing poverty of many ordinary Russians mingle with many heroes of the past. The author cleverly evokes the continuing fear pervading throughout Russie. Not banished by the end of the Cold War, just transmogrified into a new image. The plot itself, and the writing, is admirably taught and believable. The only fault lies in the range that the author attempts – there are possibly too many ideas that need more space to breathe, and the pages of a crime thriller restrict this too much. Possibly the necessary requirements of a crime novel - fast moving action, linear plot, and human interest - do not allow the underlying ideas to blossom and flower. But, after all, this is not War and Peace, but a very well written book – certainly one to rival Gorky Park. The character of Renko is one I would like to spend more time with in the future.

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