The unidentified body of a man in bicycle racing clothes is found on a wind-swept Baltic Sea beach. He has a bullet wound to the head, and possesses no ID or bicycle. It is near the crime-ridden city of Kaliningrad, and local police write it off as a robbery gone bad.
On the same day, Tatiana Petrovna, an investigative journalist for a Russian newspaper, falls or jumps from her apartment balcony in Moscow. Police declare it to be a suicide.
During the same week, Grisha Grigorenko, a shady mob boss, is assassinated and buried with honors.
Moscow detective Arkady Renko knew Tatiana and doubts that she was suicidal. He is seriously considering retirement, but decides on his own to start asking questions. When he finds that her body has disappeared from the morgue, he suspects a cover-up. As he delves into her disappearance, he uncovers a link to the other two deaths when a spiral notebook filled with indecipherable cryptograms is found with the bicyclist’s body.
"A great book is one you remember in stark detail, tell others about and selfishly stash on your bookshelf. That’s where you’ll find my favorite Martin Cruz Smith novels, and TATIANA certainly falls into this category."
When Arkady discovers that the murdered cyclist was a high-level translator who was present at a top-secret meeting in Kaliningrad and Tatiana had interviewed him, he is hot on the trail. The investigation leads him and his reluctant partner into the middle of an international money-laundering scheme that could cost hundreds of innocent lives.
Martin Cruz Smith is a master of the detective thriller who wields his writing magic like a cinematographer. Beginning with the spell-binding terror in GORKY PARK in 1981, we have followed Arkady Renko from the relentless young detective in Cold War Russia through a roller coaster career --- from the top echelons of the prosecutor’s division to being deprived of his Communist Party membership when his persistence in uncovering unpleasant truths runs him afoul of Party superiors.
In POLAR STAR,my personal favorite, he is banished to a Russian factory ship in the Bering Sea. I still recall wrapping myself in a comforter as he set the scene of the crushing wind and waves sweeping the deck as he pursues a murderer aboard ship.
His last novel, THREE STATIONS, explores the New Russia, which turns out to be no better and no worse than the Old Russia. The gap between the few newly minted billionaires and the masses only serves to make worse the lives of the street urchins, prostitutes and drug dealers who ply their trade in central Moscow. THREE STATIONS is perhaps his darkest and grittiest work, and we are introduced to a new character, a crafty and brilliant orphan named Zhenya. The recalcitrant adolescent is a street corner chess con artist whom Arkady takes under his wing. He lives hand to mouth on the earnings of hustling gullible chess players who fall for his lost waif persona. Zhenya becomes a key to solving the cryptic information in the bicyclist’s notebook, but not without imperiling the lives of everyone involved.
TATIANA is one of the most tightly plotted and atmospheric novels in the 32 years since GORKY PARK when Arkady Renko became an iconic figure in crime detection history. A good book is one you finish and enjoy enough to pass on to others. A great book is one you remember in stark detail, tell others about and selfishly stash on your bookshelf. That’s where you’ll find my favorite Martin Cruz Smith novels, and TATIANA certainly falls into this category.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on November 15, 2013