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Bookmarks Issue: 
49-Nov-Dec-2010
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An Arkady Renko Novel

A-Three StationsMartin Cruz Smith first introduced Russian investigator Arkady Renko in Gorky Park (1981). Since then, he's appeared in five other novels (recently reviewed: Stalin's Ghost, 3.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2007). The enemies were once KGB agents; now they are corrupt Russian bureaucrats and oligarchs. Smith's stand-alone novels include Stallion Gate (1986), Rose (1996), and December 6 (2002), among others.

The Story: On a Moscow-bound train to start a new life, 15-year-old Maya and her young baby try to fend off the advances of a drunken soldier. Hours later, a drugged Maya awakes in Yaroslavl Station in Moscow's seedy Komsomol Square (the "Three Stations") without her possessions and baby. Arkady Renko, although suspended from the prosecutor's office, bucks his superiors and goes to Three Stations to examine a dead prostitute. Although the case looks like a drug overdose, Renko suspects murder. Soon, Maya's and the prostitute's stories overlap as Renko starts to dig deeply into a web of prostitution rings, bureaucratic corruption, black markets for babies--and unbridled fear.
Simon & Schuster. 243 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780743276740

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Smith is a first-rate popular novelist, and this is one of his best books: tightly plotted, well constructed, with a host of memorable secondary characters. ... Smith is always an inventive storyteller, and he brings this setting vividly to life, a contemporary noir setting that is all the more thrilling--and heartbreaking--because so much of it is acted out by characters in their early and pre-teens." David Walton

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Like the luminaries of the genre, Smith is at heart a deeply moral writer, and beneath his wry, cynical tone you can feel his authorial anger twitching a safe distance away. Paired with what reads deceptively like a native's knowledge of Russia, it makes for a potent brew." Olen Steinhauer

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The main investigation underpinning Three Stations doesn't carry the full force of past adventures, reflecting the only 240-odd pages Smith employs to describe Renko's newest internal and external struggle. ... Smith does, however, nail the key to the structure of a detective novel, when Renko thinks ‘there was still time for [him] to walk away from a case he did not fathom and a woman he did not understand.'" Sarah Weinman

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"But what is the allure in depicting (and reading about) a society that is so screwed up? Perhaps it's because to fail in such a place becomes a moral victory. ... Whatever it is, we evidently can't get enough of this ongoing story." Carolyn See

Critical Summary

"Taken together," notes the Cleveland Plain Dealer,"Cruz's novels chart the political and social changes that have transformed the former Soviet Union over these last 30 years--and the banes of indolence, indifference and corruption that seem to survive every Russian regime." The capable Renko, of course, has followed right along, and he is still as adept as ever at exposing dishonesty and corruption. Critics agree that if Three Stations is not the best entry in the seven-part series, Cruz brings to harrowing life the world of prostitution rings, runaway children, street gangs, and corruption, and his writing dazzles. A few opine that Three Stations feels a little thin and rushed, but that is a minor complaint in a series that continues to follow, warily and intelligently, Russia's evolution.