on 5 January 2003
This book marks the return of Arkady Renko, Cruz Smith's hero of the original novel Gorky Park. No longer a Moscow investigator, Renko has been in hiding in the depths of Russia for the last two years or so and has finally found himself at the bottom of the worst place in the world that you might possibly be.
Where the first novel seemed to meander a bit after a fantastic first half, this novel seems to work better almost as a self-contained unit, although undeniably part of a sequence. The book combines some excellent literary references (in my view, and everyone should check out Anna Akhmatova's poem THE GUEST) and some nice black humour ("There is no unemployment in Russia.")
An excellent "Murder Mystery" novel which has been nicely researched and written.
on 20 October 2002
What can I say that other more talented reviewers have not? All I can say is that this book is, perhaps, one of Martin Cruz Smith's finest works. Personally I read it before I got hold of a copy of Gorky Park but the plot is presented in such a way that the reader does not feel any loss. I found the descriptions of the ship, the fishing methods and seascape complimented the plot fantasically. But what I really enjoyed was the depth of research that the author has put into the text, not only on matters of seamanship but also what it must have been like to be Russian under the Soviet system. A fantasic read, like all his books, Polar Star is certainly one of his most visually stunning.
Gorky Park was righly acclaimed as a great novel, but its sequel, Polar Star, which sees the ongoing trials and tribulations of Arkady Renko is even greater. While the first book had a theme of escape and breaking free while running away from the dark forces lurking around every corner, Polar Star has an almost unbearable claustrophobia about it where Renko must not only resurrect his detective skills but he must fight to stay alive aboard the eponymous vessel.
I found this book more approachable than Gorky Park and as there has never been a film made of it I never ceased to be taken by surprise as the body stack up and Renko is drawn ever deeper into the dark secrets of the ship. As such, I found it a more rewarding read.
This book has got to be a must-read for anyone who has read Gorky Park, but it would be just as easily accessible by someone starting their first Renko novel. You might miss some of Renko's background story, but you'll soon grow to like him. His sardonic take on the Soviet dream makes him seem very human and provides a welcome light relief from the grisly murders.
Compared to some more recent novels the murders and subsequent pathology might seem rather tame (but hey, we're all pathologists these days) but that's part of the charm and it makes you realise that the real strength of this book is the depth of the characters. A first rate chiller thriller.
on 11 November 2009
After reading Gorky Park, I learned that there were sequels to this book, Polar Star and Red Square. I thought the sequels would be a hard act to follow. I was wrong. Arkady has to take flight from sinister forces which are out to exterminate him following his investigations in the first book. He finds asylum and sustenance on a Soviet Factory Ship working with the US in US waters in the spirit of Glasnost. there is a suspected murder of a young woman on board; given his record, he is asked to investigate ostensibly that the young woman had died due to misadventure, otherwise it would not look very good to the Americans. Arkady thinks and does otherwise, the powers that be did not reckon on his forensic abilities and skills. That's where the problems start. I do not want to say anymore with regard to the plot.
The book is resplendent with the claustrophobic atmosphere of the ship. You can smell the salt, fish, sweat, cabbage, Russian tobacco smoke with the turn of each page.
His observations of the Russians and Soviet people is magnificent, they are sitting in front of you with friendliness, diffidence, hostility - you can see straight in to their eyes and feel an air of menace.
Martin Cruz Smith knows the Soviet Union, its politics and people so well that you are up against them just like Arkady. Having said that, one can not help feeling that he loves his subject matter. Makes you wonder what the Russians think of him.
on 16 March 2008
I read Gorky simply because I ran out of reading material and this was all that was on the shelf at the time but I am so glad I did. It led me to want to read more of this man's brilliance so I bought Polar Star. I cannot deny the storyline was difficult to keep up with at times but that is because it is written to successfully keep us on our toes - it almost forces us to check our memory as we go along otherwise we could be mistaken in thinking bits don't quite make sense. A tactic used often by writers and, thankfully, in this case it worked well. The descriptions he uses to put images of the ship, the environment, his feelings, for example when on land for the first time in 10 months, all make for an excellent read. I hate to use a cliche but you really could almost smell the rotting fish! One of the finest moments was grim but slightly funny at the same time. A slime eel escaped from a dead woman's belly and then continued to slime its way around the room before being chopped up. More poignantly the way the Russian people are taught to recite, and believe, the party slogans in everything they do reminded me just how tough their lives must have been under communist rule. The 'hero' of the book, Arkady, once a well respected investigator describes his downfall, his torture and how he finally ended up in the bowels of a Russian factory ship gutting fish on the 'slime line'. The relationship between the Russian and American sea workers appeared as strained as much at that one-to-one level as it was from country to country. A very thought provoking murder novel superbly written and hugely recommended.
on 21 September 2010
I rate Martin Cruz Smith very highly, particularly his Renko books. This is undoubtedly one of his best. It follows his fall from "grace" following Gorky Park and we are given an insight to life for those not in the Party.
The book has lots of intrigue and excellent characterisation.
A must for fans of Martin Cruz Smith.
on 10 July 2007
I love this book and have read it so many times, not because of the plot which I do not find that interesting but
because everything else about the book is so well described: The crew, the descriptions of the ship and fishing. Akardy Renko is wonderful as always as a character and his romance with Susan, the American, is poetic.
on 30 November 2008
Chief Investigator Arkady Renko has been banished from duties and expelled from the Party. He eventually finds himself as a seahand on a Soviet fishing ship (Polar Star) which trawls the waters between Alaska and Siberia working in co-operation with American ships. When a murder occurs on board the Star, Renko gets a token appointment to investigate the crime. No-one is seriously interested in finding out what really happened and, in fact, a suicide note is produced in short order to have the investigations stopped. Despite no support, Renko won't give up.
This is a heavy read, but also a great murder mystery. Nearly all the action takes place on the high seas, in atrocious weather, and Cruz Smith does well in painting the very grim picture of the conditions and the confined environments on board the ships. The book was written in the late 80's and therefore has a host of Soviet characters and features which are described very well. The cast is widened with a number of American personalities so the pool of possible murderers becomes quite deep, adding considerably to the level of intrigue.
It is all very intense considering the relationships and conditions. But one can't help but feel the material has been meticulously researched and the setting up of a murder in such a context has been handled deftly.
A sound thriller, set in the most interesting of environments, which will keep you guessing until the end.
on 9 August 1999
Gorky Park was justifiably called "the thriller of the 80's" by Time magazine. In this sequel, Martin Cruz Smith continues to tell the story of Arkady Renko, now in exile on a fishing trawler after the events of Gorky Park. Seizing a chance to redeem himself, Renko investigates the death of a young woman aboard the ship.
Already a convincing character in Gorky Park, the reader comes to understand Renko even more intimately in this book through the pain of being in exile. His dry, self-depreciating humour is used to good effect here, too, deftly off-setting the complex and absorbing murder plotline.
Although this book could stand alone, to fully appreciate Renko's character and the situation he is in, I would definately read Gorky Park first.
on 5 June 2011
The Arkady Renko books are the mainstay of Martin Cruz Smith. Although I eagerly await each book, the quality can be somewhat erratic. The last one I read -'Stalin's ghost', was the poorest,and the reviews for his latest 'Three Stations' suggests that the deterioration continues. The books have become a little formulaic - A heroic protaganist full of despair and integrity,a corrupt and dystopian social setting, a collection of venal and murderous interlopers.
However that should not detract from the fact that 'Polar Star', the second in the series, is one of the greatest popular thrillers ever written.
It is not necessary to read any others in the collection, this novel can stand on it's own.
Without giving away too much of the plot,- Following his fall from grace Renko now works on the production line of a huge arctic factory ship. Ostensiby on the run, his government pursuers cannot be bothered to follow him into such a hostile environment and he has lost himself in crowds of despondent transients who make up the workforce. He has boarded a huge fish-processing factory ship - the 'Polar star' on a six month work journey in the hostile polar seas. An immense rust-bucket stinking of fish, perpetually freezing, he spends 14 hour shifts standing up in entrails , exhausted, gutting fish. His companions are deemed the lowest of the low, servile criminals, misfits, black-marketeers. But even here is tenderness, companionship and the capacity for love amongst suffering that has become almost stereotypically identified with the Russian psyche. His superiors are cynical,cruel and corrupt neo-Stalinists. The conditions are so bleak,circumscribed and horrible that one of the only incentives is that for a few days there is the opportunity to harbour briefly in an Alaskan port and the Russians can trade for western goods which they can sell back in Siberia.
The backround has changed from the totalitarian dystopia of the first novel to a truly nightmarish environment of inescapable menace.
Then a female body is brought up in one of the nets. He is begrudgingly asked to investigate a murder.....
After the first few pages it was an ordeal to have to put this book down!