Book Review: Martin Cruz Smith ~ The Arkady Renko novels

The British Detective Inspector genre has reached new levels of sophistication in its numerous iterations. There is a pretty standard characterisation used by most authors and so thrillers depend almost entirely on ever more ingenious plots. However, no matter how devoted you are they can occasionally lose their lustre. Just how many alcoholic, music-loving, insightful maverick Detective Inspectors can you actually care about? Perhaps a radical change of setting and plotting is called for? Put Brighton and Edinburgh behind you and try the Soviet Union. A bold move that will richly reward you.

The Arkady Renko novels are set during the period of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The first three are Soviet Union novels where the country is gradually moving into gangsterism and crony capitalism. Renko is an incorruptible Soviet version of the British Detective Inspector. Superbly intelligent, brave to the point of recklessness, elicits fear from senior officers and near worship from junior officers. Renko is terrific. But what makes the stories better is the colour. Soviet Russia is very much not Brighton or Edinburgh.

Smith’s first Renko novel Gorky Park is set in the Soviet era and is probably his best. The post-Soviet novel Wolves eat Dogs is brilliant and is probably my favourite. Post Soviet Russia is plagued by gangsterism, corruption, cynicism and the collapse of every institution of the old Soviet Union. So if you want to read a Renko novel they come in two phases, if that makes a difference to you. The first three are Soviet era and the remainder post-Soviet.

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