Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Review of Polar Star by Martin Cruz Smith (1989, Random House)
Polar Star is the sequel to Gorky Park, the first book in the Arkady Renko series. Set a number of years after the first book, Renko has fled his former life and colleagues, taking a succession of menial jobs, working his way east across Siberia. He eventually finds himself working on a factory ship in the Bering Sea, processing fish caught by American trawlers. When a young woman is dragged from the sea by a net, Renko is persuaded to turn investigator once again. Given the closed setting, the woman could have only been killed by one of the Russian crew or the crews of the American trawlers; she was last seen on the stern of the factory boat after a party on-board which the Americans attended. It’s a neat set-up, made more compelling by the number of potential suspects given the woman’s promiscuity, the secrets held by many of the crew, their reluctance to aid Renko, especially since his investigation seems likely to cancel shore leave after four months of sea, and the inherent suspicion between Russians and Americans. Smith gives a real sense of life on-board a factory ship operating in freezing territory and the uneasy thawing of relations been cold war rivals. He slowly winds up the intrigue and tension, with the plot unfolding towards a nice denouement. The only flat note is the sense that Renko should have been dead within the first third of the tale and somehow manages to stay alive despite the many opportunities to kill and dispose of him. Indeed, that he’s alive at the end of the book is something of a miracle. Nonetheless, Polar Star is a gripping crime thriller.