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Gorky Park (Arkady Renko Novels) Mass Market Paperback – February 12, 1982
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
"Gorky Park" is ostensibly a police procedural, where maverick investigator Arkady Renko is the "one good cop" in a corrupt justice system investigating the murders of three young people in Moscow. Of course, this being a thriller, Renko's investigation takes him high up the food chain, where he gets a chance to expose high corruption, nefarious deeds by officials, and the hypocrisy of the world he lives in. And, of course, he falls in love with a gorgeous woman along the way.
Two things set "Gorky Park" apart from conventional thrillers you see in every airport bookstore. The first has to be Smith's command of daily life in the Soviet Union. Published in 1981 before the collapse of the Soviet Union, "Gorky Park" sweeps along with the rhythm of daily life under communism, and it's a disjointing, jarring rhythm indeed. Smith combines an eye for detail with what must have been eye-numbing research to transport the reader to another world that is completely alien to Americans. The novel starts out in Moscow and ends in New York, and it's interesting that Smith is so able to capture the jarring differences between the two cities.
Smith's style also elevates "Gorky Park." Too many thrillers use language in purely functional terms, and dialogue is invariably direct and serves the purpose of clearly advancing plot or building character. In "Gorky Park," Smith is much more subtle than your average author. Many passages and lines require re-reading to figure out what is actually being said -- not that Smith writes badly, it's just that most of "Gorky Park" is heavily laden with subtext, and Smith also has the patience to let "Gorky Park" unfold gradually. While this may slow the novel down somewhat, it also makes the story deeper and richer.
"Gorky Park" is not a pleasant novel, or a "fun read." Arkady Renko is not one of those cops who throws off pitch-perfect quips, and he is not a physical juggernaut prone to kicking butt and taking names. Rather, he is the perfect investigator for the Soviet system - dogged, intelligent, and deeply cynical. It's that cynicism that lets Renko see his fellow Soviets for who they are, and this insight makes him a great detective.
I admire "Gorky Park" more than I like it, which is why I give the novel only four stars. Renko, it must be said, is a bit of a downer. The novel opens with the dissolution of Renko's marriage, and Renko spends most of the novel in a morose funk (and not necessarily due to the divorce). Renko is a man who has been almost entirely crushed by the Soviet system and also by his family, and all that is left in his is a spark of his former self. It is that spark, that undying, implacable fire inside Renko that makes him such a compelling character. Dour, fatalistic, cyncial, pessimistic, to be sure, but very compelling.