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.
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-ABarbara Conaty, Library of Congress
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