Three Stations

[Amazon Link]

I've been a fan of Martin Cruz Smith since Gorky Park, his 1981 novel featuring Russian detective Arkady Renko. This is the seventh in that series, spanning three decades. That's a low volume compared to some authors, but it's very high quality.

In this book, Renko is barely hanging onto his job as investigator with the Moscow police. Ordered not to investigate anything, he piggybacks onto a case handled by his perpetually drunk co-worker, Orlov. It's an apparent overdose death of an unidentified prostitute; Renko, however, detects enough incongruity at the crime scene to (correctly) suspect murder and to start tracking down the victim's identity.

Meanwhile, Maya, a young girl is on the run from her sordid life, taking a train from the hinterlands to the anonymity of Moscow. With a newborn baby in tow. She's accosted by a soldier, and seemingly rescued by a feisty babushka; but it's a scam. She's drugged by the babushka, and wakes up hours later without her child. Her attempts to get authorities to take the abduction seriously are futile, and she winds up associated with Zhenya, a chess prodigy and Arkady's sorta-ward.

Smith is a masterful writer, and provides meticulous colorful details of Russia today. It's a grim picture: a feral, corrupt society plagued by top-down criminality, exploitation, and general drunken dysfunction. Renko approaches all this with a grim, very Russian, sense of humor. It's not a pretty picture, but (for me at least) it keeps the pages turning.

Last Modified 2012-09-24 11:17 AM EDT