three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
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An Arkady Renko Novel

A-Stalin’s GhostIn his sixth appearance since 1981’s Gorky Park (and after 2005’s Wolves Eat Dogs), Moscow detective Arkady Renko still smokes too much, flounders in relationships, and ignores the direct orders of his more politically minded superiors. Renko has just been assigned an unusual case: to investigate several sightings of Joseph Stalin’s ghost at the Chistye Prudy subway station. Soon he is hot on the trail of two policemen—decorated heroes of the wars in Chechnya, one of whom is running for office—who are allegedly operating a murder-for-hire scheme on the side. Despite the losses of his girlfriend, his job, and potentially his life, Renko doggedly ferrets out political corruption and conspiracies at the highest levels.
Simon & Schuster. 352 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0743276728

Fort Worth Star-Telegram 4 of 5 Stars
"Unlike some crime writers who pump out three or four books a year, Smith takes his time writing. That care shows in Stalin’s Ghost, which has a laudable emotional veracity." Cathy Frisinger

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Just three years since Renko’s appearance in Wolves Eat Dogs found him solving crimes in the radioactive wasteland of Chernobyl, Smith has come up with one of his most accomplished performances yet and, as with each of its predecessors, takes what in essence is a police procedural and elevates it to the level of absorbing fiction. … There is always a compelling back story in an Arkady Renko novel; in this instance, it is how his countrymen are coping in what is euphemistically known as the New Russia." Nicholas A. Basbanes

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"What sets Renko, and indeed Stalin’s Ghost, apart from the rest of the crowd is the fact that Smith never relies on a deus ex machina or any artificial twists or surprises. Renko uncovers the truth and wins the day, as well as the hearts and minds of readers, through the sheer force of his will and relentless determination." Dorman T. Shindler

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Through a keen eye and rapier pen, Smith has done more to educate the West about current Russia than any foreign policy magazine or nightly news show. In his remarkable new tale, the history lessons are not dogmatic or strident but suspenseful and, unlike the majority of sequels you read and soon forget, utterly enthralling." Peter Mergendahl

Chicago Sun-Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"His plotlines are a few too many and too convoluted to sustain healthy disbelief. … Smith is such a pro—such a good, swift, engaging writer—that you don’t begrudge him the excess." John Barron

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"All ends more or less well, but not before Smith, as well as entertaining us, has raised interesting questions. Renko can be seen as a father to Michael Connelly’s equally honest and stubborn Harry Bosch, but Connelly’s Los Angeles is never the madhouse that Smith’s Russia has become." Patrick Anderson

Wall Street Journal 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The most puzzling question, though, is whether someone as honest, determined and loving as Renko could ever have started work in a place as corrupt and brutal as the Moscow prosecutor’s office, much less survive there for years. … Though Arkady Renko’s grit, guts and laconic humor are certainly appealing, they do not outweigh the basic flaws in the story of his life and work." Edward Lucas

Critical Summary

His sixth Arkady Renko novel in 26 years, Martin Cruz Smith has produced a suspenseful page-turner packed full of vivid characters, clever dialogue, and hair-raising plot twists. In addition to a gripping mystery, readers will embrace the detailed, harrowing descriptions of the harshness and violence of life in the "New Russia." Critics unanimously praised Smith’s sobering depiction of contemporary, post-Communist Russia; indeed, the country emerges as a character in its own right. The Wall Street Journal complained of implausible story lines and the questionable nature of Renko’s career choices, but most critics were delighted to see Arkady Renko back in action. Readers will no doubt share their enthusiasm.

First in the Series

Gorky Park (1981): The Washington Post called Smith’s debut novel "edgy and irreverent but essentially a stately police procedural about three mutilated bodies found in a frozen Moscow park." Now a classic, Gorky Park offers an intriguing peek behind the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War.