Meet Inspector Arkady Renko in Martin Cruz Smith’s Masterpiece, ‘Gorky Park’ [REVIEW]

Gorky Park, 1982

Pond in Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure, 1982 (Photo by RIA Novosti archive, image #510373 / Valeriy Shustov / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0)

A public venue. Three unidentified bodies. One determined investigator. Can one man solve a complicated case when no one in his own government wants him to do so? Find out in Martin Cruz Smith’s dazzling thriller, Gorky Park. 

Martin Cruz Smith's GORKY PARK

Pocket Books

Chief homicide inspector Arkady Renko is one tough cookie. He’s smart, shrewd, and brutally honest. The son of one of Russia’s highest ranking officials, he’s admired by some, but the vast majority of his government’s justice system would prefer he not be quite so good at his job, especially when a triple murder takes place in the heart of Moscow.

Three corpses are found buried in the snow drifts of Gorky Park, a noisy amusement area designed in the 1920s as a piece of communist utopia. This isn’t exactly where one might think a killer would hide his victims. That fact alone is enough to inform Renko that he is about to face off with one treacherous villain.

As he digs into the case, he encounters one roadblock after another, the first in the form of the KGB. He must work around them and many others as he pursues a rich and ruthless American who has no problem breaking rules on either side of the globe. To complicate matters further, Renko falls in love with a beautiful woman who has an agenda of her own. Will he sacrifice his case for romance, or will his sense of justice win out?

Gorky Park is my second encounter with Smith’s work, although it was initially published in 1981 in the midst of the Cold War. It was praised by critics and went on to become a number one bestseller and a feature film. Now, nearly 40 years after its release, it still stands the test of time. First of all, it introduces us to the beloved character Arkady Renko who is both tough and sentimental, a man who loves Russia but doesn’t necessarily buy into the nation’s propaganda. His primary concern is justice, and catching a killer. That makes him someone to admire, especially when he has so many people facing off with him at every turn.

The second thing that makes this novel compulsively readable is how deftly Smith writes about Russia, its politics, its culture, and even its food. As someone who has never visited that country, the author transported me there in a way few can. I could smell the food cooking in the little hole-in-the-wall diner Renko likes to visit. I felt the claustrophobia of a commuter train where men are loaded on like cattle and the steam of the Russian bath houses where the rich and powerful play. And I experienced the terror of never knowing who one can truly trust, especially when those closest to him prove to be just another Judas.

Finally, the mystery itself is multi-layered and nearly impossible to solve. Smith should teach a master class in thriller writing, because the plot is one that is breathlessly paced and takes the reader from Moscow to New York City for a showdown the likes of which you’ve never seen. If you enjoy smart, compelling fiction, you can’t go wrong with one of Smith’s books. If you love a thriller that keeps you guessing until the last page is turned, you must pick up a copy of Gorky Park. It’s a masterpiece which proves why Smith has had such a long and storied career.

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Martin Cruz Smith

Martin Cruz Smith
(Photo by Doug Menuez)


Martin Cruz Smith is the author of Stallion GatePolar StarStalin’s GhostRoseDecember 6, and TatianaHe is the two-time winner of the Hammet Prize (1996 and 1999), a recipient of Britain’s Golden Dagger Award, a winner of the Premio Piemonte Noir Prize (2008), and winner of the Left Coast Crime Lifetime Achievement Award (2011).

The Soviet press has labeled Smith a “graphomaniac,” although he still isn’t sure what this means. But he has also been listed in an advisory book issued to Soviet citizens travelling abroad as a foreign agent provocateur to avoid.

However, here in the States, Smith has been hailed as a “phenomenon” and “a writer of real distinction” (The Washington Post), “masterful” (Entertainment Weekly), and “a master storyteller” (Shelf Awareness).

The son of a jazz musician and a night club singer, Smith was born in 1942 in Reading, Pa., a year after his brother, Jack. The family moved around, landing in places like Albuquerque and El Paso. When Smith was about four, they lived next to the winter quarters of a circus, which explains his lifelong fear of being eaten by a lion.

Smith currently resides in California. Visit his home on the Weblike him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

By Martin Cruz Smith
608 pp. Pocket Books. $9.99

Purchase Gorky Park direct from Jathan and Heather’s Beach Reads Book Shop or from one of these other fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Half Price Books, IndieBound, or Powell’s.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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