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Red Square: A Novel
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48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Red Square is the third Martin Cruz Smith mystery in the Arkady Renko series. After Polar Star, Renko finds himself back in Moscow and restored to his former position as an investigator. The Soviet Union is on the brink of collapse, and five or six different groups of Russian Mafia are vying for control in Moscow. One man, Rudy Rosen, is a tie to these many groups as he serves as a "banker" to them all. He also is an informer for Renko. When Rosen is brutally murdered, Renko has the difficult job of trying to find the killer.

Renko's search takes him from Moscow to Germany, where the possible suspects include gang members, the KGB, a Russian businessman and even a Russian prosecutor. There are many shady situations in Russia as communism begins its freefall, and the waters are definitely clouded. But Renko is extremely intelligent and also, very observant. Through hard work and perseverance, the waters start to clear for him.

Reading about this period of Russian history is always fascinating. It is also interesting to read how Radio Liberty (sponsored by Americans) broadcast out of Germany. This was the only way Russians could discover what was really happening in the USSR.

My only complaint about Red Square is that it seemed rather disjointed for the first one hundred pages or so. It was often difficult to keep characters straight and to follow the plot. But things really picked up halfway through, and the remainder of the book was riveting. I couldn't put it down.

So while I think Red Square fell just a little short of Gorky Park and Polar Star, it is still a fine effort by Cruz Smith.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2001
The title is a play on words, and things have really changed in Arkady Renko's Moscow. He's an Investigator again; he has been rehabilitated. His concerns are the different mafias that rule the city's underground (and plenty of the above-ground) trade, and a radio program from Germany that connects him to his past. There are "bankers" in this new Moscow, and trade is in full swing. There are Audis, markets, chemical bombs, and charming Party-members who look like movie stars and get along with Americans because Americans love people who look and act like they do. The murder of a Jewish banker-informer takes Arkady and his partner to the outskirts of Moscow, to a collective farm that has not done much farming, to a Volvo ("a compact, well-made car" as Arkady thinks while looking for his partner) and to Stalin's villa. From there, right before the August putsch, Renko will go to Germany after the trail of the Russian mafia, after "Red Square," after the voice he listens to on the radio every night, alone in his apartment.
Full of intrigue and with a great plot, "Red Square" is also the most romantic of the Arkady Renko novels. Again, where so many of the genre writers fail miserably, Smith soars: the love between Arkady and Irina is poignant, believable, adult, and a bit childlish at the same time; the dialogues are realistic; the description is never trite or tired, but vital and fresh. Once again, Smith proves that he is not only a good genre writer who can churn out a superior mystery novel, but a great writer, period. In Arkady Renko he has created a person, not just a character, and his prose flows with ease. In "Red Square" Smith mixes the reality of the August coup and the barricades with the story of Arkady and Irina, and the pursuit of the truth regarding the deaths of an informant, a policeman, an affable Trabant-lover, and the smuggling of art. A Russian in Germany, a poor man from a poor country in a rich country not known for its hospitality to others, the real victors and the real losers from World War II, all this is part of the intricate but rewarding story of "Red Square." Whatever else Martin Cruz Smith decided to do with his detective in the next novel ("Havana Bay," most of which I did not approve of), he created a very tough-to-follow act with his Renko trilogy: genre novels, detective stories, that are well-written and presented with respect to the reader. These are true rarities in the crowded, low-quality mystery shelf. "Red Square," like "Gorky Park" and "Polar Star" before, stands out as top writing by a top writer.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
First published in 1992, _Red Square_ illustrates the complexities which have emerged as the Russians allow some private enterprise but have not yet become a democracy. Hardliners want to perpetuate their own way of life, while young people and the hungry proletariat want reform and their own piece of the pie. Arkady Renko, who has appeared in two previous Cruz Smith novels (Gorky Park and Polar Star), has returned to Moscow from exile and has resumed his job as a detective, this time investigating corruption and criminal fraud in the city as private enterprise takes illegal turns.

Rudy Rosen, who engages in money-changing, gambling, and other felonies, some of them involving citizens of foreign countries, is cooperating with Renko by allowing him to record conversations. Immediately after Renko leaves Rudy in his car, however, Rudy's car explodes, incinerating Rudy and a suitcase full of cash. As Renko investigates who might have killed Rudy, the complexity of this mystery parallels the complexities of a Russian society in which it's every man for himself in terms of financial transactions.

All the characters are at loose ends, wondering who they are and how they are perceived. Renko is just back from exile, the love of his life having defected to Germany years ago, and she believes that he has abandoned her. Rudy Rosen wants to have it both ways--to cooperate with Renko and to continue his shady dealings. The Chechens who appear in the story are blamed for everything that is violent or illegal, but they remember the horrors of mass relocation and the killings through which the Russians annihilated their villages and left them homeless. As the investigation of Rudy's death leads Renko from Moscow to Munich and Berlin (and to a meeting with Irina, his long lost love), Renko meets with other Russians who live abroad but still regard themselves as Russian.

Renko is a sad case--morose, love-starved, and without any reason for living--and as he tries to do what is right, his essential goodness comes through. As the case becomes an investigation of stolen paintings, many of them owned by Jews at the outbreak of World War II (and earlier), Renko's own superiors and the Russian Mafia abroad threaten his life. The body count rises and who-did-what-to-whom becomes confusing, but many readers will be focused on the character of Renko. As he tries to navigate the minefield of his own life, he resembles a modern version of some of the great Russian tragic heroes. This is not the most unified of the Renko mysteries, but it is fascinating, nevertheless. n Mary Whipple
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2001
I can't speak for the latest Arkady Renko novel, "Havana Bay," having not read it yet, but for me, the finest of the first three is the magnificent "Red Square," one of the most gripping and memorable thrillers I've read in a long time.
For those that have never read any of Martin Cruz Smith's novels featuring modern fiction most's unique detective (the others being "Gorky Park" and "Polar Star"), you might be surprised by what you find. Smith is no Mickey Spillane--he is a literate, cerebral writer and a first-rate novelist with an unusual gift for both probing, insightful characterizations and heart- pounding, edge-of-your-seat storytelling. His Renko novels can best be described as Saul Bellow meets Robert Ludlum, and Smith's voice is distinctive and unmistakable.
"Red Square" finds Arkady in post-Cold War Russia, investigating murder and intrigue in a society rife with corruption and desperation. He also reunites with his great love from "Gorky Park," and Smith's description of the reunion is among his very best writing. "Red Square" also features Smith's characteristically convoluted plotting, which can at times get confusing, but eventually resolves itself with the most satisfying ending he has yet written for a Renko novel.
All in all, "Red Square," despite a rather slow first 40 pages or so, was one of the most fascinating and unforgettable thrillers of the decade. Outstanding.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2004
The third Arkady Renko novel by Martin Cruz Smith, Red Square is as strong as the first two. Smith's writing rises far above the typical spy / thriller genre. His characters are fully developed, flawed and nuanced. The dialogue is wonderful, down to Renko's self-effacing honesty and Irina's protective lies. Moscow detective Renko is heroic in a underdog sort of way. Here he confronts Russian mobsters in Moscow and Germany after the murder of an underworld financier and a fellow cop. It's simply good writing, good research, and a good plot. And Arkady's fans will be happy to see Irina again.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 1996
If you're reading this review it's probably because you
haven't read Martin Cruz Smith's Red Square yet. And that's
too bad, because you're missing a vivid glimpse into both the
mafia-riddled new Russia and the loyalties of the human heart.
Arkady Renko, the homicide detective hero of Smith's earlier
books Gorky Park and Polar Star, returns to Moscow and finds
himself battling an international crime ring in a story that
crosses the German border and brings him face-to-face with
his longed-for lost love. The gripping plot and Smith's
masterful ability to capture the nuances of these complex
geographical and psychological landscapes make this a book
you will remember every time you pick up a copy of your
favorite news magazine.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2002
Although Havana Bay has been out a few years now, its predecessor Red Square and the two previous Arkady Renko mysteries should never be forgotten. Martin Cruz Smith is a master of place and mood. He is absolutely convincing that he's personally been in the places he describes and has absorbed the atmospherics of the setting. With a background of deprivation and impending chaos, the predominant mood of this book is suspense. Arkady himself is never safe, even when working the murders at hand with his own staff. Every sentence contributes to the feeling that only one's mental alertness and puny physical skills stand between survival and disaster.
It would be a serious understatement to refer to a "crime" in this book. As the Soviet Union dissolves and, with it, law and order, the spoils of the former Communist state are being gobbled up by the most nimble of the mafias. Among these, the most vicious are the Chechens, but every neighborhood of Moscow has spawned its own. Where is there not crime?
As the story opens, Arkady has been reinstated as investigator in good standing in the Moscow police. Once he has launched a murder investigation in the normal course of his duties, however, he is forced to continue, not so much in the name of justice, of which there is very little hope, but to keep a step ahead of palpable threats to his own career and safety. With action taking place in Russia and Germany, Red Square will appeal to readers with a taste for spy fiction. Although this book is fiction, it describes Russia in the turmoil of USSR collapse as well as any piece of non-fiction could. Creating a new society in Russia will be one the great events of the early 21st century. Smith takes you there, to be present at the conception.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2006
Arkady Renko, brilliant and flawed hero from Smith's Gorky Park and Polar Star, is back in a book nearly as good as the original in the series. Renko, political offender, has returned from his "reconditioning" exile among the fishing fleet of the Siberian coast, and he's been permitted as a "reformed" person to begin work once again in the Moscow militia ( police department). Renko finds life vastly changed from a decade before, when he was a rising star among Soviet detectives. Not only has Gorbechev opened Soviet society to heights never imagined in the perpetual night of the Cold War, but the cynically pragmatic Renko discovers lawlessness of a type and savagery impossible under strict Communist control. As he infiltrates the new mafia, a variety of vicious, fearless black marketer, Renko finds himself caught up in a massive plot, the dimensions of which he at first can barely comprehend, involving the smuggling of priceless works of Russian art. Indeed, as Renko trails these national treasures into western Europe, he is reunited with his lost love from Gorky Park, Irina, who has worked for ten years among dissidents intend on crumbling the Soviet empire from the outside in. Red Square (the name is itself part pun and part key to a mystery) is, like all of Smith's Renko books, as much a sociological exploration of the society within a nation that was both a military superpower and an economic Third World regime. This is a satisfying read that concludes among real life events, and at its climax draws its strength from the backdrop of one of the brightest moments of freedom in the annals of humankind.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2005
Martin Cruz Smith's conflicted hero Arkady Renko, homicide inspector for the Militia is back patroling a different beat. After shaking off the 70 year old yoke of Communism, Russia's economic landscape is vastly different. Capitalism has created the opportunity to make money, some of it legal, some illegal. Renko has returned from exile in Siberia. where he toiled in inhospitable work details. He was being punished for aiding in the defection of a young woman Irina Asanova. While doing so they fell in love. Irina fled Russia but the dutiful Renko returned to meet his fate.

Renko in the course of an investigation enlisted a black market financier Rudy Rosen to act as a mole using a radio transmitter to monitor illegal monetary transactions. When Rosen was incinerated in a blazing inferno while siting in his Audi, Renko launched into action.

Renko ambled his way through an unfamiliar Moscow trying to solve Rosen's murder and stumbled upon a convoluted plan to make mountains of illicit money. In his probe Renko encounters the deadly Chechen mafia, as well as corrupt officials and newly established entrepreneurs all trying to squeeze profits out of the tumultuous new Russian economy. Renko's quest leads him to Germany where he hope to reunite with Irina. Unfortunately she consideres herself foresaken and has moved on.

Cruz Smith in "Red Square" attempts to describe the new Russia which is struggling with the changes that this new wave of capitalism has wrought. As the settings of the novel change to Munich and Berlin we see the differences present in those westernized cultures. Cruz Smith gives us a good sense of the confusion of the Russian people as they have to readapt their philosophies to cope and survive within this altered society.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2004
Smith's "Red Square" is a great example of how a novel transcends its genre and becomes a work of literature almost by stealth. Yes, this is a mystery featuring intrepid Moscow Militia detective Arkady Renko, but it is a great deal more. It's a look at a nation gorging itself on capitalism like a starved man at a banquet table. It's a story about patriotism and what it means to love one's country. Renko finds, to his utter disbelief, that the expatriates who escaped communism in the '70s and '80s are no longer the folk heros they once were, and he--a seeming workhorse cog in the Russian machine--may have shown more courage and idealism than they ever did.

It's also a great love story. Almost every mystery has the detective meeting a love interest, but none have ever read so true and the reunion of Renko and Irina. From the early scenes where he in his dilapidated apartment listens to her pirate broadcasts from Germany, to their meeting amid the wealth of post-Cold War Germany this is a romance that genuinely moves the reader.

In the end "Red Square" is simply one of the best. One of the best books I've read, one of the best mysteries to come along in the past 50 years, one of the best socio-political examinations of the Cold War...the list goes on and on.
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