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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.
9/10
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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 !
0Comment14 of 14 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
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.
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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
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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!
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In his sixth Arkady Renko novel in twenty-six years, Martin Cruz Smith continues the character development of the aging Renko, a complex police investigator with an inherent honesty that serves as a barrier to advancement in contemporary Moscow. With the downfall of communism, Russia is now filled with corrupt politicians, organized crime lords, police acting as killers for hire, and a pervading uncertainty about the future. With every man for himself, it is no wonder that Renko, at the mercy of higher authorities in the force and unable to investigate the corruption he sees, has developed a healthy cynicism and pragmatism about life.

As the Moscow winter wanes, a mass grave from the mid-1940s is found at a construction site, obviously a place for the disposal of those executed under Stalin's rule, with the help of Renko's father, one of Stalin's trusted deputies. No modern investigation results, and no one is surprised. The inaction is all part of life in this city where the past and the present come together in a whirlpool which sucks the life out of its citizens. When the ghost of Stalin is seen wandering the subway, Renko is assigned to this low level case. As many ordinary citizens long for the "good old days," Stalinism is on the rise, and Police Inspector Nicolai Isakov, a killer for hire, is running for public office on a Stalinist platform.

A wartime "hero" for his actions as a Black Beret during the Chechen war, Isakov has never received medals or promotion for his behavior, and Renko is curious about why. When the other Black Berets who served with Isakov begin to die violent deaths, Renko begins a surreptitious investigation and finds himself fighting for his life. His personal relationships are not improved when his lover, Eva, begins sleeping with Isakov, and Zhenya, the twelve-year-old street orphan to whom Renko has offered a home, disappears, presumably to hustle at chess.

Cruz Smith's immensely satisfying plotting grows naturally from life in Moscow and its values and mores (for good and for evil), and when dramatic and gory scenes of violence arise, they do so within the context of a setting fully developed sociologically and historically. The characters are individualized and empathetic at all levels, and Arkady, who has continued to grow and change over the course of twenty-six years, still hopes that goodness will triumph, despite the country's current problems. Even secondary characters, like Zhenya become fully rounded, their motivations clear. The occasional black humor and Arkady's sardonic observations keep the reader engaged, even as the author raises questions about the future of Arkady and others like him who hope for a long-term justice. Mary Whipple
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Martin Cruz Smith is to Russian psyche what James Clavell was to Far East ethos: a master author that is able to capture and masterfully convey the natives' perspective and an outsider's amazement at the same time.

From Soviet inefficiency and corruption, to the transitional plutocracy flaunting their stolen billions and political clout, and to present day totalitarian oligarchy struggling to consolidate its power, the Russian winter of discontent seems never to end. And in the middle of it all, good old Arkady.

The self-destructive and detached police investigator who knows not when to quit; who knows not how to play the political cards; who will take anything thrown at him; who never takes his eyes from the ball; and who will surprise every so often with his insight or luck, even he cannot be sure.

Soviet era ghosts stir up trouble in modern Russia. Stalin's apparitions seem to be visiting the Moscow Metro station that served as his underground bunker during WWII. Arkady will get stuck with the case of investigating the claims and its implications because of his father special relationship with the tovarich - and because he is expendable, not to mention a constant thorn in the side of his superiors. The way he drinks cheap vodka and brushes the wrong way with powerful underworld characters, he might believe so himself. But then again never underestimate the perseverance of the Russian desperation.

If new to the series, I would advise starting with GORKY PARK and work your way to this one: you will get a panorama of Russian society in the last 30 years. Nevertheless, STALIN's GHOST is a perfect standalone gem on itself.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
0Comment1 of 1 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
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.
9/10
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VINE VOICEon 17 July 2008
Having never read a Martin Cruz Smith book, but having been impressed by the film of Gorky Park I actually bought this book in desperation. I was travelling back from Istanbul to the UK via Munich and had run out of books to read before reaching Istanbul airport. A quick trawl of the bookshop persuaded me to purchase Stalin's Ghost.

What impressed me was the quality of the writing as much as anything. Phrases like "Time nibbled away at the afternoon" and "Night crouched outside the casino" show a real talent for writing. Add to this a densely plotted thriller in modern Russian and it was an excellent page-turner.

I finished it in "one" go - Istanbul to Munich, 4 hours in Munich, Munich to Manchester and then a 25-minute queue for passport control. I read the last page walking through the baggage reclaim section. The fact that I was really tired (early start, long day, two time zone changes) underlines the quality of the book - I could not stop reading it. The author has a clear eye for the detail of post-communist Russia and the spectre of Stalin pervades the novel.

I'll probably buy the other Renko books now, perhaps even Gorky Park - having seen the film it will be interesting to see how the book holds up.
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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.
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