Twenty-six years after the introduction of Arkady Renko in
GORKY PARK, he has yet to endear himself to his superiors. And
he’s been through a few during those years. No one quite
knows how to handle him. Brilliant though he is, with a fine
reputation for clearing cases, his downside is that he’s
highly unpredictable and eminently unmanageable.
Having been given an assignment well beneath his rank as Senior
Investigator, Renko goes through the motions of trying to figure
out who is appearing as Stalin on the train platform. He
doesn’t really care, but that is the assignment Prosecutor
Zurin gave him. What he really cares about is Detective Nikolai
Isakov and his partner, Marat Urman. The trail Renko has been
following leads him to believe that they are involved in
murder-for-hire plots. Plus, he sees a possible link to other
deaths, both ancient and recent. A Stalin impostor on the last
train of the night just doesn’t strike Renko as important; it
strikes him as busywork designed to thwart his investigation, for
Isakov has become a popular candidate in the upcoming election.
When Renko gets stern orders to lay off, he knows he’s on the
Now Renko’s lover, Eva, has defected to Isakov’s side.
Renko doesn’t know what went wrong, but for now he is more
concerned about Isakov’s role in recent Moscow murders that
may be tied to the Chechen war. His motives, though, come under
question. “Ask yourself what you’re after, Isakov or
Eva?” Is Renko envious of the man’s success, is he
jealous, or does he truly want to stop a monster?
Shortly before Eva goes missing, Zhenya, a boy Renko has grudgingly
taken under his wing, disappears with his chessboard. It’s
happened before; Zhenya goes in search of a good match, for his
abilities in the game are extraordinary. Aside from chess,
he’s a kid prone to sullenness and hero worship. If Renko
fails to live up to Zhenya’s image of him, he well may
transfer his allegiances elsewhere. That could mean grave danger
--- for Renko as well as Zhenya.
While trying to find Eva and Zhenya, Renko runs into a situation he
doesn’t come out of well. In his effort to survive, his mind
dredges up old --- and very bad --- memories of his father. The
general worked at Stalin’s side, as brutal as the famous man
himself. Now Renko tries to come to grips with his past as he works
to make a future for himself. With his life in a delicate balance,
Prosecutor Zurin, more than eager to ship him away somewhere, gives
him a choice of places for a peaceful convalescence. Renko chooses
Tver, an unpleasant community a short distance from Moscow. It is
also the community that Isakov is living in.
In a country ravaged by wars, mass graves are a reminder of human
atrocities. For disparate reasons, they are searched out and
unearthed. There exist two loosely formed groups of excavators: The
Red Diggers, with the noble purpose of restoring a good name to the
soldiers wrongly accused of desertion and/or treason, and the Black
Diggers, who simply want to profit from the loot among the bones.
Such a site is found near Tver, the scene of heavy fighting during
World War II. Renko and the Diggers find more than they went
STALIN'S GHOST is a fast-paced story told from beginning to end,
without the contrived twists and unlikely surprises many of
today’s authors seem to hold sacred. Now, more than
two-and-a-half decades after meeting Arkady Renko, he is an even
more interesting character, living up to the promise that he first
showed in GORKY PARK. Martin Cruz Smith deserves high accolades for
his newest in the series.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 23, 2011