Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Gorky Park [1981]

Gorky Park, conferred with Gold Dagger award by British Crime Writers’ Association and considered a classic in its genre, was the 1st of 8 novels featuring the fictional detective Arkady Renko as the protagonist – the 1st 3 were based during Soviet era, while the next 5 were set post-Soviet collapse. The simple English and some implausible developments aside, it had the hallmarks of a good novel in that it managed to transcend the generic confines of murder-mystery and police procedural – juxtaposition of the complex investigation with the investigator’s personal complications, and using the case to provide a peek behind the Iron Curtain. It begins with corpses of three young folks – shot at point-blank range and their faces and fingertips carved out to make deciphering of their identities difficult – being found under the snow at the titular Gorky Park, the iconic Moscow landmark. Though seemingly right up KGB’s alley, more so when it is found that one of them is an American while the other two Siberians, and with all the 3 possibly linked to a powerful American businessman with strong presence in Russia, Renko, the Chief Police Investigator of Militsiya or civilian police force, is asked to take charge. And what he ends up unearthing over the next few weeks puts both his life and career at grave risk. The most striking aspect of the book was that, Renko wasn’t characterized as someone with exceptional intelligence or physical prowess, rather as a normal man with problems of his own. However, what separated him were his sheer doggedness and his refusal to kowtow to Party loyalists. With his marriage in shambles, his increasing infatuation with a stunningly beautiful dissident Irina, and his chance acquaintance with an iron-boned NYPD cop, it laid bare the imposing Soviet machinery with its deep-rooted corruption, contradictions and conspiracies. It deftly painted the gray, wan and dreary Moscow environ (both literally and figuratively), and this moody atmosphere made it all the more gripping.

Author: Martin Czuz Smith
Genre: Crime Thriller/Detective Novel/Mystery/Police Procedural
Language: English
Country: US