“Stalin’s Ghost” by Martin Cruz Smith: a unique crime hero in a dark backdrop
“How did you and the investigator meet?”
This piece of dialogue from “Stalin’s Ghost” is a fine example of how Martin Cruz Smith tells his Arkady Renko stories: he never skips an opportunity to add some acid to the backdrop and then pour some sarcasm over it. Perhaps by now, way into the 21st century, we have grown accustomed to sarcasm in the media, it having become a way of life, but Smith still has an exceptional talent for creating bitter concoctions – however, it all still serves the main character’s attitudes and way of life. It all feels natural and believable to the point where I feel that, would I have been a police detective in Russia myself, I would be a lot like Arkady Renko (if I could) out of sheer necessity. At some point we “leave Moscow and enter Russia” – it’s at these moments when Smith sheds a light on post-communist Russia that the detective story is expanded from a mere crime story to being also a story about people. If you say that should be true of all novels, I guess you have a point, but in the crime genre Smith rises high above the standard. He has that rare talent to turn what’s basically a crime story into something larger than that – and of course his long standing reputation (coming a long way since “Gorky Park”) confirms that. Additional to all this is of course the ambiance of post-communist Russia, and that’s a whole story in itself. It is a tough nation with tough inhabitants and that does a lot for this story about “sightings” of the long dead Joseph Stalin in the Moscow underground, an overture to the unravelling of crimes. I must hand it to Martin Cruz Smith: his hero Arkady Renko has a way of investigating that is highly original and surprises me time after time. Every time you think the man’s going to turn left, he turns right. So it’s thumbs up for “Stalin’s Ghost”. See what you think.