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Out of Conflict Comes Synthesis,
This review is from: Gorky Park (Paperback)
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.