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VINE VOICEon 30 August 2006
I first read this superb book at the tender age of 19 shortly after visiting the (then) USSR and strolling round Gorky park in the snow. I'd seen the film of course and half expected the film to follow it closely but I was wrong. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the film but the book was something else. More twists, more plot, more gruesome and, perhaps most importantly, more Russian.

Times change and the USSR came to an end. Cold War thrillers disappeared from the book shelves and were replaced by an endless cavalcade of serial killer stories and so on. But Gorky Park still gnawed away at me and I read it again. What a great decision!

The book is still as fresh as it was when it first took the literary world by storm with the discovery of the three bodies in the snow still shocking, Comrade Major Pribluda still more than a bit like Dracula, the elusive Irina Asanova still as alluring and the sardonic and world-weary Arkady Renko still the best post-war literary detective.

Whether reading this novel for the first time or reading it again after a long break this book is still a belting yarn. It has thrilling set pieces, careful plot development and has an indefinable Russian melancholy about it. Perhaps that is Martin Cruz Smith's finest achievement, this book feels more authentically Soviet with real Russian people living through real Soviet times, rather than the 2D stereotypes we got used to in so many other novels of the same period.
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on 22 October 1998
I first read this book in 1984 and have been re-reading it at intervals ever since. This has to be one of the best novels of its kind in the last twenty years, certainly on a par with the recent works by Robert Harris (Fatherland etc).
The story revolves around the discovery of three faceless, nameless bodies in Gorky Park by a Moscow Militia detective and the trail of corruption he untangles as a result.
I won't reveal too much more about the plot, except to say it doesn't involve any of the usual Western/Russian staples about nuclear missiles, spies etc - read it yourself!
The book was so successful in evoking the atmosphere of the Breshnez regime that the author was allegedly banned for a number of years afterwards - in fact, it took Smith seven years to write the sequel (Polar Star).
It was also made into a more than adequate film with William Hurt.
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VINE VOICEon 7 April 2009
Seen the film many times so gave the book a bash (Great value used copy on Amazon tempted me). Highly intelligent, well-written, plausible and thought-provoking.

Most of what is a lengthy novel simply flew by. The view of the Soviet Union ranges from the big picture 'Russians feel inferior to everyone except Arabs and other Russians' to the mundane eg) the brand new washing machine that breaks down - 'that's alright....we can still show it to people'!

Apparently there is a mini-series of novels involving Arkady and I would gladly read more on this character. I liked the contrast between his naivety on the bigger political front both nationally and job-wise and the intelligence he shows as an outstanding detective.

At its' core it is a crime thriller and as such is not going to change your life but it is a good vehicle to get a little peep behind the Curtain. Also liked the counterpoint between the futures of the sables and Arkady.

Really enjoyed this. It's not a Five Star masterpiece (very little is) but this is a recommended read even if you've seen the film.
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VINE VOICEon 14 August 2006
Martin Cruz Smith is a former journalist and magazine editor. "Gorky Park" is his first novel to feature Arkady Renko, was first published in 1981 and is largely set in the Moscow before the collapse of the USSR. Renko, the hero, works as the Chief Homicide Investigator for Moscow's militia - unlike the KGB, who deal with matters if 'State interest', the militia are more or less the standard police force. Renko, therefore, deals with the 'everyday' murders. Displaying one unfortunate trait for a homicide investigator, however, he has a distinct aversion to corpses - though he has a 100% success rate in clearing cases. Unhappily married and somewhat cynical, he's not quite as active a Party member as his wife would like him to be - something that has also had a negative effect on his career. He also appears to be something of a disappointment to his father, a very famous retired General. Renko's boss, Prosecutor Iamskoy, seems to have a certain amount of affection for him though - the Prosecutor actually won an appeal for a worker wrongly convicted of murder thanks to Renko's work.

The book opens in Gorky Park, first park of the Revolution and favoured above all others. Three corpses have been found buried in the snow and, as a result, have been very well preserved. This means that, initially, the time of death can only be estimated as sometime that winter. All three victims - three men and a woman - were all shot through the heart, with the two men also having been shot through the head. The killer, clearly an expert marksman, also has access to a weapon Muscovites cannot typically lay their hands on. No papers could be found on the bodies, which have also been mutilated - the fingerprints and flesh on the faces has been removed, making a quick identification unlikely. One early lead, however, comes from the ice-skates the victims were wearing...

One of the other detectives assigned to the case, Pasha Pavlovich, had worked with Renko previously. Then, three corpses were found at the Kliazma River in remarkably similar circumstances to the Gorky Park killings. The pair immediately suspect the same individual is responsible in this case. However, as the chief suspect at the Kliazma River was a KGB Major called Pribluda, the pair promptly lost that case to the KGB. As Pribluda - who'd actually taken over the Kliazma River case - makes an early appearance at the scene in Gorky Park and interferes with the corpses, Arkady and Pasha expect the KGB to again quickly snatch this case from them. (Pribluda will, of course, be kept right up-to-date : a third detective assigned to the case, Fet, is a known KGB informant). In fact, as the cases progresses, even Renko thinks it looks more and more like a KGB case...though he suspects they would have little desire to 'solve' it.

Overall, a very good book and well worth reading - for me, it would comfortably rest in the top tier of the murder-mystery genre. Renko is a very likeable character and, probably because of his 'flaws', is very easy to relate with. Recommended.
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on 6 April 2009
Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is easy to forget that there was a time when Russia was considered a frighteningly futuristic society: organised, disciplined, crimeless and technologically advanced. We have become used to regarding the post-soviet Russia as a country travelling backwards, characterised by territorial disintegration, (dis)organised crime, shortening population lifespan and economic failure. President Putin has reversed this trend somewhat, but it takes time to shake a reputation, and reading Gorky Park today is like stepping into a lost world.

In Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith takes the classic Raymond Chandler detective thriller and transposes it into the USSR of the early 1980s. Three bodies are found in a Moscow Park, the bodies have been mutilated to hide their identities, and Militia investigator Arkady Renko is given the task to finding the killer. The regular Chandler stereotypes all make an appearance: the femme fatale, the false friends and the bogeymen. The plot moves quickly and unexpectedly. Smith's depiction of the USSR is vivid and convincing, a fascinating world of paranoia, informers, state ideology and bureaucratic conflict. The unusual context puts an intriguing accent onto the standard detective thriller - this is a world where the investigator has one eye on the crime and another on abiding to communist party politics and ideology.

Smith writes excellent entertainment fiction, building suspense gradually and crafting an exciting and engaging story. My only criticism is that he seems unsure of how and when the end the story, and the overextended plot developments at the end somewhat stretch the novel's credibility. The final part of the novel seems unnecessary. The decision taken by Renko at the conclusion of the novel seemed to me, well, disappointingly ridiculous. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

As a fun thriller, Gorky Park is worth revisiting. It occurs to me that Robert Harris's novel Fatherland owes a strong influence to Gorky Park, but Smith is a better writer.
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on 6 July 2006
Unfortuantly I had watched the film before seeing this, so sat down expecting to know exactly what was going to come next, and thought it was hard not to picture William Hurt as Renko, I came to the conclusion that the movie did the book any justice (and I love the movie!!!).

Really gripping stuff and will take no time to finish, and after that you will be ready to go onto the next book (Polar Star) which is every bit as good.

Best point about this book, unlike other books on Soviet theme's, this one has hardly seemed to have dated in any way!!!
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This is a fabulous book that stays in your memory long after you have finished it.
The fact that Renko was to feature in six more books by Cruz Smith is testament to just how good this character is

The book has been filmed but IMHO is 6 times better than the film.

The book introduces the Russian Detective Arkady Renko.
The action takes place in Moscow but this is before the collapse of the USSR.
Now who could have predicted that?
Renko is a Chief Homicide Investigator for Moscow's militia so he deals with the non politico stuff and the underbelly of the Russia leaving the `important State' cases to the all powerful KGB.
So he is a detective dealing with mundane homicides, Renko is an honest cop in a corrupt system and that means trouble.

All the great books of fiction feature a central figure on whom the book and story hangs.
Think of Sherlock Holmes. Miss Marple. Poirot and the like.
Even if the story is weak the hero/heroine carries the story.

This a wonderful story in which we get inside the flawed hero's head and experience his daily trials and tribulations.
He is an honest man between the criminals and his superiors who are the more dishonest are subject to debate.

Briefly the story starts with a mystery.
Three bodies have been found in Gorky Park.
Nothing strange in that but for the fact they have all been shot- expertly.

The mystery unfolds slowly and we are along for a wonderful satisfying ride.

This is a really wonderful novel that any lover of the detective genre would be wise to seek out.
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This is a fabulous book that stays in your memory long after you have finished it.
The fact that Renko was to feature in six more books by Cruz Smith is testament to just how good this character is

The book has been filmed but IMHO is 6 times better than the film.

The book introduces the Russian Detective Arkady Renko.
The action takes place in Moscow but this is before the collapse of the USSR.
Now who could have predicted that?
Renko is a Chief Homicide Investigator for Moscow's militia so he deals with the non politico stuff and the underbelly of the Russia leaving the `important State' cases to the all powerful KGB.
So he is a detective dealing with mundane homicides, Renko is an honest cop in a corrupt system and that means trouble.

All the great books of fiction feature a central figure on whom the book and story hangs.
Think of Sherlock Holmes. Miss Marple. Poirot and the like.
Even if the story is weak the hero/heroine carries the story.

This a wonderful story in which we get inside the flawed hero's head and experience his daily trials and tribulations.
He is an honest man between the criminals and his superiors who are the more dishonest are subject to debate.

Briefly the story starts with a mystery.
Three bodies have been found in Gorky Park.
Nothing strange in that but for the fact they have all been shot- expertly.

The mystery unfolds slowly and we are along for a wonderful satisfying ride.

This is a really wonderful novel that any lover of the detective genre would be wise to seek out.
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on 8 February 2015
I very rarely leave reviews, and it is even rarer to leave a bad one. But take this more of a warning sign - ignore the hype, I actually found this an arduous read. The famous title and rave reviews lured me in, but I need to add some less enthusiastic feedback to the discourse. They say it evokes Moscow, but I was fortunate to live there for several years and reading this was disappointing - it fails to capture the colour and passion of the city, contributing only (some of) its brooding intensity without its sense of majesty, romance and fun. Also, all Russians aren't just depressed borderline alcoholics who cheat and lie perpetually - maybe this stereotype floated in the early eighties, but the Cold War is over people! In addition, as a mystery is fails several critical tests - a central protagonist who doesn't engage, stakes that are difficult to care about, and anonymous victims. I love crime fiction, and I can recommend much better (btw just finished some James Ellroy, go for it!). And if you want to drink in Moscow, it isn't easy but you deserve more (even the awesome John le Carre slipped and fell on the surface without really chipping it with Russia House). Maybe try the sequels, but I'm in no rush. Good luck!
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on 3 July 2012
I have just read this for the first time having been put off the book after watching the film (which has thankfully now blurred in my recollection). For those who have only seen the film, as usual, it bares little resemblance to the original book, which is far better.

The book was written over 30 years ago, and is an excellent reflection of it's time, having spent time in the former Soviet Union I recognise some of the feelings that the main protagonist goes through and the feel of the book. It has a number of twists and turns which constantly keep you re-thinking your perspective (their are really no good guys in this!).

I really enjoyed this and although was "of it's time" when first published should now be viewed more in a historical sense. Although when in the FSU you can still feel a little of the paranoia especially when speaking about the "establishment".

Good book, worth a read, to the extent that I am now buying the next two books that Martin Cruz Smith has written about his character Arkady Renko.

KBJ
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