This is part of Martin Cruz Smith's long-running series set in contemporary Russia, featuring the akward, obstinate and brilliant detective Arkady Renko. In fact, the real star of these novels is Russia itself, as the twisting plotline is set against the backdrop of the post-Soviet state with all of its strange developments, political, sociological and criminal.
If you haven't read any of the earlier books in the series then the main plot won't be a problem, but much of the subtle backdrop will be lost on you, because you need to have developed a relationship with Renko, and an understanding of his personal situation, to feel the impact of events in this book.
Still, you don't need an in-depth knowledge of the characters to enjoy Cruz Smith's brilliant portrayal of the Russian winter, nor to understand the melancholic and nostalgic longing for Soviet-era order or how a military hero in Chechenya might rise to the top of a nationalistic political party.
There's also a good mystery to unravel. Why did travellers start seeing Stalin's ghost at an underground railway station? (And, of course, the deeper meaning of the title: how much of Russia is still dominated by Stalin's shadow?)
This isn't a page-turning, rip-snorting action thriller. Very often the most shocking moments come in mundane situations, when you least expect them. So it's best to pace the reading a little, enjoy the concise, well-crafted text, and let the Russian ambience surround you for a while so you get the most from the clever revelations as they jump out and grab you.
Thoroughly recommended for lovers of thoughtful political thrillers.
on 1 August 2007
Having read all the Arkady Renko novels, I bought this as soon as it was available in the UK. I read it far too quickly and have now got wait a year or two I guess, for the next one !
'Gorky Park' is my favourite of the series so far and probably always will be for it's sheer originality.
This one and it's predecessor, 'Wolves Eats Dogs' are more social commentaries on Russia as much as thrillers, which makes them interesting, but perhaps just that little less thrilling. However, as soon it as became clear who the main villains were, it really kicked off for me. They are two ex-black berets who fought in Chechnya and returned as heroes. But, they have a secret to hide, and kill for. They are now cops, working alongside Renko. One of them, the charismatic Isakov, is a candidate of an ultra-nationalist party that is cynically using the memory of Stalin to gain popularity. Isakov's side kick, Urman, is the usual type of thug that the author puts into his stories :
To Renko: "You never let up", Urman said.
"It's an innocent question. Anyway, you're going to kill me as soon as you get the nod"...
There are few other bad or sleazy guys, among them, two American political consultants. As usual the chief prosecutor is not a big fan of Renko.
As for Renko's friends and allies, there is his alcoholic partner, Victor; and the bad tempered Chess Grand Master, Platonov, who looks over Zhenya, the child chess prodigy. Zhenya prefers to play for money to the annoyance of Platanov.
As in 'Gorky Park' and 'Red Square' there is a love triangle, this time, between Renko; his girlfriend, Eva and Isakov.
There is an interesting development late in the book involving the finding of large numbers of dead soldiers, murdered during WWII. One of many strands to the story.
I think you really need to have read at all of the previous Renko stories, in order, to fully appreciate them, and understand some of the references. For instance, Irina is mentioned in this book
Thank you, Mr Cruz Smith. Please continue to write more, anything really !
This latest Renko novel is similar to Renko's Ural Cossack motorbike: it starts off slowly but gets you wherever you wish to go! When you read a Renko story you finish up knowling a lot about Russia which you didn't know you wanted to know.
I really enjoyed this book but then, I'm a Renko fan. After the rather ponderous 'Wolves Eat Dogs' this is Arkady at his best. Which, of course, means that his dogged determination to solve a series of murders, initially disconnected, leads him into pain and anguish both physical and emotional.
His relationship with Eva is not going well, his relationship with Moscow is not going well; indeed, the poor man has lost his sort of adopted son as well.
But, Renko being Renko and Martin Cruz Smith being the high class author he is, the story gathers speed and the reader has to reach the last page to determine how Renko's life will go on - if it will!
MCS is one of the few authors whose books demand that you read every page for fear of missing some crucial information. Or, at worst, picking up some item about Russian domestic history which escaped you before.
If you are an Arkady Renko fan, you won't be disappointed. If you're not, I hope that you will become one after reading this.
Stalin's Ghost is a real page turner. I could hardly put it down when my eyes grew heavy at 2 a.m. No one writes about Russia like Martin Cruz Smith, and in Stalin's Ghost you will see past, present, and future of that volatile country combined in a marvelously powerful way.
Arkady Renko is back in Moscow, but his life is at a low ebb. Renko's relationship with Eva (whom he met in Wolves Eat Dogs) is being destroyed as she's drawn into living with Detective Nikolai Isakov. Zhenya, Renko's surrogate son, has stopped coming home, and Renko can't find him. Prosecutor Zurin wants nothing to do with Renko: He has a terrible habit of investigating too much!
Matters take an unexpected turn, however, when Victor accidentally picks up a phone call at the police station from a woman who wants to hire a hit on her husband. Could it be that the police are committing crimes and then covering their tracks through a cursory investigation? Soon, Arkady and Victor are meeting with the prospective client and getting the job.
Out of nowhere, Zurin decides that Renko should take over the politically sensitive investigation of reported sightings of Josef Stalin in a subway station where he used to come during World War II air raids. On the way to the station, Renko stumbles on a building crew that finds a mass grave under Supreme Court. Where are all the bodies buried?
Renko is surprised to find that his sexual rival, Isakov, is also involved in investigating the Stalin sighting . . . but seems to be doing a poor job of it. Following up with Isakov, Renko also finds that other investigations are going peculiarly. What's the agenda here?
Gradually, we learn that Isakov is in a parliamentary race based on his reputation as a Russian hero during the second war in Chechnya. Naturally, Renko can't let it go at that and pursues the truth . . . no matter where it leads. In the process, he learns some important truths about Eva, Zhenya, Isakov, and Stalin. All roads lead backward in time to reveal those truths. Renko will be in mortal danger from remorseless killers throughout the story. You'll be haunted by his experience, I'm sure.
The book is filled with wonderfully evocative metaphors for Renko's investigative work, usually presented in terms of digging up the past in some physical form or by digging through one's mind to employ old knowledge to solve current problems. The book literally drips in bloody looks into the dark infamy of Stalin and those who served him, including Renko's father. You'll get the idea that Stalin wasn't an exception in the Russian character, but rather an extreme expression of the desire to hold power and gain advantage at any cost.
I found it hard to imagine how this book could have been plotted or developed any better. It's a remarkable thriller built around the imagery of a tiny light of goodness against the pervasive darkness of evil.
Just as British reviewers enjoyed The Simpsons Movie, but were still disappointed, Martin Cruz Smith is well below form with "Stalin's Ghost". It is just as well-crafted as the best of his previous works, but it is strangely predictable and uninspired. Unlike his fictional chess prodigy, Smith telegraphs his moves miles in advance. Had I never read any of his masterpieces, on current form I would never go out of my way to read anything else he has written. Certainly Stalin's Ghost would be a welcome diversion on a flight from London to Moscow, but unlike his previous works, it fails to transcend the genre. I can think of any number of thrillers by lesser writers which are far better books.
Smith has probably gone as far as he can with Arkady Renko. In books like Gorky Park, Polar Star, Havana Bay and Wolves Eat Dogs, he created a wealth of ordinary and completely believable characters and put them in extraordinary situations. He researched corners of human life which are alien to our quotidian existences, and explored themes which put his works well above mere 'literature' of the type which routinely wins literary prizes. But in Stalin's Ghost, his limitations--his anti-Americanism and his adolescent longing for communism without commisars--become more apparent.
on 28 July 2008
I like Martin Cruz Smith's writing and I have enjoyed prior novels with Senior Investigator Arkady Renko as the lead character.
In common with the prequels, the book is instructive on life in Russia and contains some rich observations. I liked lines like "as he was leaving Moscow and driving into Russia.....".
The plot is not all that deep but takes Renko to Tver and very nearly sees him killed. I found the book to be populated with strange scenarios, relationships and interactions as Renko tries to solve a couple of mysteries. The relevance of a couple of Americans who played bit parts still escapes me and the Stalin's Ghost angle in the metro seems to have done more for others than it did for me.
Here too, Renko struggles with his own demons and his relationships with his adopted son and partner. To get the most out of this book, I suspect a reader would need to have built a strong relationship with Renko from prior novels.
For whatever reason, I judged this book first as crime novel and I didn't feel it was as strong as other Cruz Smith books I have read. 7/10
on 31 December 2007
Its what? 30 years since Gorky Park hit the bookshops... and its a real credit to Martin Cruz Smith that Renko has survived the test of time.
As always, just when you think things are finally turning good for Renko in the last story, the book opens with his life in the gutter once again! His step-son has went missing and his relationship which developed from Wolves eat Dogs looks doomed to failure.
The story is really good... Wolves Eat Dogs breathed new life into Renko after the non-starters of Red Square and Havana Bay, and the feel of it is the closest to Gorky Park you will find in the series.
Only problem with it is Renko must be what? in his late 40s-Mid 50's? Yet survives attacks that would have ended a man half his age?
Only a small flaw, but hopefully there will be more Renk books as good as this for years to come!
on 17 August 2007
"Gorky Park" - Great convoluted murder mystery set in the Soviet Union. It's a bit overlong. The film version is a simplified travesty.
"Polar Star" - My favourite of the books. It's a bit more like a traditional murder mystery as it has everyone trapped together on a fish processing ship.
"Red Square" - Perhaps the most inventive of the books. I always thought it was a great idea what the red square of the title actual is, and what it does. If memory serves me right it was the first post-Soviet book in the series.
"Havana Bay" - Arkady goes to Cuba. This was the first of the books that I read. If I read it in chronological order I might like it a lot more. As it was, I felt utterly confused by the book as it had two alien cultures meeting each other, and a lot of backstory. I enjoyed it enough to read the others so I think it must be a good book.
"Wolves Eat Dogs" - Another excellent setting. This time Arkady Renko goes into modern day, semi-deserted radioactive Chernobyl. I thought this was probably the most purely enjoyable book of the series as the first two or three feel quite weighty even if they're not.
"Stalin's Ghost" - It's probably the lesser of the six books but considering the quality of the previous novels, that's not really a critiscism. It's fairly short and not half as labyrinthine as the earlier books. I'm also slightly puzzled by the logic of it:
*OBSCURELY WORDED SPOILER*
I don't quite understand why the men had to be killed, instead of paid off or intimidated, for their silence; and why they would go to such lengths if he was only considered to be a paper candidate to begin with?
on 25 February 2014
Bought for gift for husband and he's as pleased with this as the other MCS audio books he's had. Amazon service excellent as usual too. 4 stars given not 5 because nothing's perfect....well, not yet anyway.
on 13 April 2012
This is the first Martin Cruz Renko novel I have read and I must say I was quite bored throughout and could not wait for it to end. I felt no empathy for any of the characters, the plot was slightly ridiculous in places, there was a complete lack of suspense. I will however try some of Cruz's earlier efforts as the quality of the writing suggests he is capable of better and many people have said the earlier Renko novels are far superior to this one.