Criminal Classics – Liz Avey


Liz Avey is a Scandi-crime specialist and reviewer at Crime Fiction Lover.  You can also find her over at her excellent blog Spriteby’s Bokhylle.

Here’s Liz on Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park…




Cruz Smith has written seven books featuring his Russian detective, Arkady Renko, which span a time period of nearly thirty years.  However, its Gorky Park that is the one that really stands out for me because of the way it explores the harsh realities of life under the Soviet Union in the early 80s.

It’s a book I first came across in my teens and find myself returning to every once in a while. Two things that have always stood out for me are the image of workers queuing for a lunch of cabbage pasties that sounded inedible, washed down with a shot of vodka, and the eight different mafia groups that vie with each other for overall control. Everything just sounds so bleak and dangerous.

The book opens with the grisly discovery of three bodies in Moscow’s famous park.  Not only have the victims been shot in the chest and face, but their fingerprints have been completely obliterated to ensure that they can’t be identified.  What follows is an investigation by a police officer who finds that there’s more to good policing than being able to catch the bad guys, it also means that you have to tow the party line, in this case, the Communist Party.

The KGB refuse to touch the case; an instant indicator that something isn’t quite right and the sensible man would walk away. In choosing to pursue the investigation, Arkady soon finds himself clocking up some very powerful enemies who aren’t particularly keen on his snooping around.  It’s hard for Renko to know who he can and cannot trust, even amongst his own colleagues, and he makes some unexpected allies in the form of a New York cop and Irina, the girlfriend of American sable importer, Jack Osborne. Renko’s determination is seen as arrogant and he’s labelled mentally unstable by his superiors, something that Cruz Smith points out would not have been unusual for those who show an unwillingness to conform. Ultimately, it’s Arkady’s loyalty to the party that’s being called into question and persistence, at least in solving this case means that he is crossing a line into being classified a dissident. As a reader, it’s a book that first draws you in as a good old-fashioned police procedural and develops into a thriller that keeps you gripped.  Tensions are built up gradually before eventually reaching quite an intense crescendo.


– Liz Avey


The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.

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