Skip to main content

The Siberian Dilemma: An Arkady Renko Novel


The Siberian Dilemma: An Arkady Renko Novel

Arkady Renko returns as the intrepid Moscow homicide detective in a nail-biting thriller on the Siberian steppes. We first met Arkady as a young Moscow police officer during the Cold War era in the bestseller GORKY PARK, which was turned into a hit movie starring William Hurt, Lee Marvin and Brian Dennehy. Younger readers may ask “Who are those guys?” but veteran Russian novel enthusiasts have long memories. More than three decades after the Cold War ended, Russians remain an enticing resource for captivating crime themes; they really haven’t changed. Nor has Arkady, ever bucking the system.

Tatiana Petrovna, Arkady’s adventurous freelance journalist and on-again/off-again lover, has abruptly left Moscow in pursuit of an exclusive story in Siberia. This is not at all unusual in her line of work; he knew she had been following a crusading political oligarch named Mikhail Kuznetsov, who was running for president against Vladimir Putin. Arkady thought he was a fool --- Putin was president for life after all --- but this billionaire oil man had created a large following, and Tatiana couldn’t pass up an opportunity for a good story. She mysteriously left Arkady nothing but a train schedule with the time of her arrival circled on the return trip from Irkutsk the following evening. He arrives at the depot at the appointed time with a bouquet and a bottle of vodka, but when she fails to show up, he assumes she missed the train. Cell phone calls and texts go unanswered for a few days, and his concern grows.

"It’s just the spine-tingling, curl-up-under-an-afghan-by-the-fire escapism we relish as we hunker down for the upcoming winter."

Arkady’s superior, Prosecutor Zurin, gives him an order to travel to Irkutsk to pick up a suspected Chechen murderer and take him to a regional prison for interrogation and prosecution. He’d prefer to decline, but Zurin hints that his 17-year-old adopted son, Zhenya, could be in danger if he doesn’t follow through. Zhenya, a chess genius, makes a living playing for cash with duffers in the very public Gorky Park, and Zurin suggests he could simply disappear if Arkady doesn’t take the assignment. Russian cops are as lawless as Russian criminals, so not knowing if the threat is coming from Zurin or street thugs, he reluctantly leaves behind Zhenya. He’s not sure where Tatiana went after she arrived in Irkutsk, but hoping to track her down, he agrees.

When Arkady delivers the Chechen to authorities, he notes that Kuznetsov is making a speech and attends in hopes of spotting Tatiana, which he does. She is surprised but reluctantly invites Arkady to have drinks with Kuznetsov, whereupon he learns that brown bears are a hazard to the oil workers on Kuznetsov’s oil fields. Arkday’s prisoner is awaiting trial, so he’s free to accept an invitation to helicopter to the Lake Baikal region for an overnight hunting expedition. Another oligarch offers to fly them in with a group on an overnight bear hunting trip. It turns into a nightmare when two members of their party are murdered. Their snowcat is destroyed, the cabin is burned down and the helicopter is gone. Arkady, Tatiana and their guide are left to make the trek by foot. Then things take a turn for the inconceivable worse. I leave you no further spoilers, but it’s a white-knuckled, page-turning ride for the last half of the book.

Martin Cruz Smith, whose work I have read since the late ’70s, has not lost his touch creating action-packed Russian novels. His books are not spy thrillers, like other favorites of mine such as John le Carré and Daniel Silva. However, they do paint chilling landscapes of the formidable frozen steppe region and provide an authentic portrayal of the criminal backbone, which remains in Russian society. The poverty of the late 20th century has evolved into a culture drenched in extravagant oligarchic oil money with private jets, helicopters and regal mansions. It’s a new world, but Russian ruthless lawlessness and brutality prevail. It’s just the spine-tingling, curl-up-under-an-afghan-by-the-fire escapism we relish as we hunker down for the upcoming winter.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on November 22, 2019

The Siberian Dilemma: An Arkady Renko Novel
by Martin Cruz Smith

  • Publication Date: October 13, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 143914026X
  • ISBN-13: 9781439140260