I often return to "Gorky Park." I almost didn't go there at all. The film was not very good, although I liked Joanna Pakula. One day I read "Polar Star" (literally in one day, since I could not put it down) and I was hooked: I had to read "Gorky Park." Almost ten years later, I think I've read it ten times. I can always spare a day or two for one of my favorite books.
Welcome to the world of Investigator Arkady Renko, whose superiors use him, whose wife doesn't love him, whose country is like an insane asylum where the patients have the run of the place and sane people like Renko do the best they can. This is a great mystery novel, but the level of Smith's writing puts him far above the level of what we expect from "genre" novels. His characters became real people for whose fate I really cared. His plot is complicated but not overwhelmingly so. He does not trick the reader. And his detective, the militia investigator Arkady Renko, is one of the most memorable detectives in fiction: smart without being pedantic, intelligent, patriotic (yes, our Arkady truly loves his country), loyal to his friends and the woman he falls in love with. This is not the picture of a perfect man, but that of a basically good man. Renko is believable in his feelings and attitudes, and that is due to Smith's talent. Also thanks to the author we get an almost Dickensian description of Moscow and the inner workings of criminal investigations in the old Soviet Union. I felt I was in Moscow, and I finished reading the book truly caring for the characters in it, particularly Renko. Smith's novel is powerful, well-written, engaging, insightful, and a lesson in how talented writing can be applied to genre fiction for the benefit of everyone involved. "Gorky Park" and the other Renko novels are so far above genre, they make the rest look really bad, and they provide hope for genre novels in general: talent should not be divorced from entertainment. Excellent read.