Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review of Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith (2013, Simon and Schuster)

Investigator Arkady Renko is attending the funeral of murdered billionaire businessman, Grisha Grigorenko, when a protest begins at the cemetery gates for Tania Petrovna, a fearless journalist who supposedly committed suicide.  She cannot be buried on consecrated ground and besides her body has disappeared from the morgue.  Renko is drawn to the protest which is broken up first by a gang of skinheads, then the police.  Tatiana was not the kind of person who would take her own life, but she had plenty of enemies.  Despite being warned off, Renko starts to poke around sure that foul play was involved in the journalist’s death.  He soon comes into possession of a notebook filled with the idiosyncratic codes of a translator whose body was found in sand dunes near to Kaliningrad, home to the Russian Baltic fleet and the world’s largest source of amber.  If there’s an answer to Tatiana’s death, either the notebook or Kaliningrad hold the key, but only if Renko can stay alive.

Tatiana is the eighth book in the Arkady Renko series, the first of which, Gorky Park, was published in 1980.  A lot of water has passed under the bridge in the intervening thirty years, including the demise of the Soviet Union and the rise of Russian oligarchs.  Tatiana focuses on the latter and what seems like the tenuous connection between the deaths of a billionaire and a fearless investigative journalist.  The themes of the dangers of being a journalist in Russia and the corruption existing between state agencies and large businesses was topical and interesting.  However, the set up felt overly contrived and elaborate, hinging on a coded notebook, an odd collective and a state conspiracy, with some of the connections and back story a little sketchy.  Moreover, it made little sense that Arkady is allowed to continue to poke his nose around given the stakes.  That said, the story is nicely written, with a sense of melancholy pervading the prose, and Renko remains an appealing, taciturn, pragmatic and quietly determined investigator.  Overall, an interesting story that felt somewhat contrived and also a little thin.

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