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Havana Bay: Martin Cruz Smith (Arkady Renko Series Book 4) and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

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Havana Bay Hardcover – May 11, 1999

212 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

In this fourth book in Martin Cruz Smith's splendid series, an amiable Irish American gangster explains to Arkady Renko what he and the other 84 wanted Americans hiding out in Cuba do with themselves. "We try to stay alive. Useful. Tell me, Arkady, what are you doing here?" "The same," says Renko--and it's true. His life as a Russian cop has become so bleak and lonely that he takes any opportunity to shake things up, even spending his own savings to fly to Havana when an old colleague is found dead--floating inside an inner tube after night-fishing in Havana Bay. Renko sets out to make himself useful in this shabby, fascinating, haunted country whose inhabitants look on Russians with the cold disdain of survivors of a nasty divorce.

As he did so well in Gorky Park, Smith again makes Renko very much a classic Russian hero in temperament and tradition, but also the eternal outsider. He is at times close to the edge of despair--but his trip to Havana restores his natural curiosity and life force.

In this hot Havana, ripe with the fruity smell of sex, Renko keeps his Moscow overcoat on--until an equally idealistic and out-of-place young female cop gets him to loosen up. There's an unusually complex plot, even for the sly strand-spinner Smith. He raises baffling questions: Why would a group of military plotters order illegal lobsters in a fancy restaurant and then not eat them? And his descriptions of Cuban life are dead-on, reminding us on every page what a superb stylist he is. --Dick Adler

From Library Journal

Arkady Renko, perhaps Russia's last honest policeman, has arrived in Cuba to look into the death of a colleague. Opening on a corpse scene so gruesome that Virginia's Kay Scarpetta might get the willies, the plot quickly submerges into a surreal cauldron of dark beliefs, Cuban patriotism, and American wheeling and dealing. Where in Polar Star (Random, 1989) Smith explored the coldest regions, here he glories in the Caribbean riot of sensual heat and light. There are cameo characters who capture Fidel's Cuba while Arkady struggles with the elemental challenges of survival and discovery. This novel illuminates the dark corners of a sunny Havana and deftly portrays a society trapped in a Soviet legacy of deprivation and control. Smith writes incomparably well while willing the reader to reach for understanding of the human passions he describes. Every library will soon have a long waiting list for this spectacular new book. [A BOMC main selection; previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/99.]ABarbara Conaty, Library of Congres.
-ABarbara Conaty, Library of Congress
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 329 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679426620
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679426622
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (212 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #910,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Martin Cruz-Smith's novels include Stalin's Ghost, Gorky Park, Rose, December 6, Polar Star and Stallion Gate. A two-time winner of the Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers and a recipient of Britain's Golden Dagger Award, he lives in California.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Richard Wells on April 19, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Martin Cruz Smith is the Dante of post-Soviet Russia, and Arkady Renko, Mr. Cruz Smith's protagonist in the "Gorky Park" series is our guide to the nether regions. Renko is the perfect Russian: tortured, haunted, romantic, and in need of a square meal. The problem is, if you fed him he'd probably go into shock from the nourishment. In "Havana Bay" Renko doesn't seem to consume much more than strong cigarettes and the left-over pickles in a recently murdered (?) friend's refrigerator. And how a Russian in Cuba gets home-style pickles is a mystery unto itself.
Mr. Cruz Smith is a master of atmosphere and character. In his series he takes us from Moscow, to the Bering Sea, to Havana, and each locale is another vision of hell on earth. He has a detailists eye, and whether it's the slick of oil on water, the tactile pleasure of a cold can of beer, or the sound of cloven hooves on marble he awakens each scene with particulars. Havana is a city being slowly strangled by economics and regressing to the corruption and lust for the tourist dollar of the Batista era.
Mr. Cruz Smith's characters are neither black nor white, but the moral gray of humans under stress. Yes, the good guys are good, but they are also flawed, and that accounts for much of their attraction. Renko, Orfelia his Cuban detective inamorata, George Washington Walls an ex-pat US radical, and the sundry other characters in this well written, literate, mystery are all worth watching. Mr. Cruz Smith doesn't sketch, he paints.
Settle back, read, and you are there - have a good time in hell!
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is the latest installment in a series starring the Moscow investigator Arkady Renko. For those familiar with this series, this book is most similar to the second installment, Polar Star. Like all of Cruz Smith's books, this is a well written and capably plotted mystery. As with all the books in the series, the plot involves murder, political intrigue, and official corruption. Neither Havana Bay nor its two predecessors approach the quality of the original book in the series, Gorky Park. That book was a particularly stylish and imaginative variation of the classic American detective novel developed by Raymond Chandler in which the protagonist is the only decent individual, or at least the only individual interested in the truth, in a corrupt milieu. In Gorky Park, Renko's preoccupation with finding the truth makes him into a virtually heroic figure in Soviet Moscow. In the subsequent books, Renko appears more passive. This is particularly true in Havana Bay, where the suicidal Renko's grip on life has become tenuous and his interest in the truth seems more a matter of habit than passion. Cruz Smith does not apparently have the ability to make Renko's despair realistic enough to make the characterization compelling. The most interesting character is Renko's Cuban counterpart and love interest, a female detective caught in the contradictions of her idealism and the reality of post-Cold War Cuba. Still, this is a decent read and better than most books in this genre.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Doug Vaughn HALL OF FAME on May 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Havana Bay, like many of Martin Cruz Smith's books, works becasue he recreates the milieu of his story so well - and because it is so interesting a setting. The plot itself is so dense that it recedes behind the scenery. Arkady Renko, Russian and self-conscious to the core, stands out like a sore thumb in Havana. His clothes, his attitude, his singular search for the truth about what happened to his late 'friend', all set him apart from those around him and propel him to the less than exciting conclusion that Cruz serves up for the reader. Far from the best of the Renko series, Havana Bay is still an interesting story and deserves to be read. Cruz can conjure up locale and scene better than any writter I know. If for no other reason than a vicarious trip to contemporary Havana, I would recommend this book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
After a few uneven novels, compelling story teller Martin Cruz Smith has plucked Arkady Renko, the hero of "Gorky Park," "Polar Star" and "Red Square," out of freeze to take on the rouges once again.
By sending Detective Renko to Havana to identify the body of his old friend Sergei Pribluda, Smith sets himself a considerable challenge: Not only must he provide the sophisticated whirls of intrigue for which "Gorky Park" is famous; he has to make the country seem real from a Russian's perspective. Arkady has to assimilate language, customs and even a little Cuban forensicology at a dizzying rate. But the tropical locations of "Havana Bay" reward both the author -- who meets the challenge by grounding the book with precise, credible detail -- and his inexhaustible protagonist.
In Havana, a cabal of Cuban police officers wants to prevent Arkady from identifying the body, and, if possible, to prevent him from going home alive. Only one officer, a single mother named Ofelia Osorio, comes to his assistance, and together the two try to get to the heart of an international conspiracy of venal, murderous thugs.
Smith has a delicately layered touch with this novel. Along with a love story, he takes the reader along with Arkady on a hairpin-curve tour through the topics of Russo-Cuban relations, Santeria and the local conventions of hustling with the unsentimental deftness of a seasoned guide. Smith, like other Cold War writers, has had some difficulty in the past few years finding the emerging markets for intrigue. His 1992 novel "Red Square" was an interesting but somewhat shallow dive into Moscow's organized crime problem; his novel, "Rose," was an ambitious piece of historical fiction about the perils of coal mining in England.
So while Smith's writing hadn't suffered much, it hadn't excelled, either. Now it has. Enjoy this solicitous, lascivious, at times, sleek-sleaze ride.
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