TATIANA by Martin Cruz Smith

Book Quote:

“You don’t get it. I don’t need to know the ins and outs. I’m a pirate like those Africans who hijack tankers. They don’t know a dog’s turd about oil. They’re just a few black bastards with machine guns, but when they hijack a tanker they hold all the cards. Companies pay millions to get their ships back. The hijackers aren’t going to war; they’re just fucking up the system. Tankers are their targets of opportunity and that’s what you are, my target of opportunity. All I’m asking is ten thousand dollars for a notebook. I’m not greedy.”

Book Review:

Review by Eleanor Bukowsky  (JAN 17, 2014)

Each chapter heading in Martin Cruz Smith’s brilliant novel, Tatiana, is printed on a slant, providing fair warning that not everything in this story is “on the level.” The author manipulates us by withholding facts and feeding us misinformation. Why does Smith lead us astray? He may be informing the uninitiated that his hero, Arkady Kyrilovich Renko, Senior Investigator for Very Important Cases, lives in a society that is off-kilter, warped, and perverse. To survive in today’s Russia, Renko, and others like him, must always be on their guard. Arkady’s cynical colleague, Detective Sergeant Victor Orlov, is tired of wasting his time trying to get the goods on influential miscreants. He insists, “The point is, you can’t win. We’re just playing it out.” He would rather spend his days passed out in his apartment after drinking himself into a stupor.

The prologue begins with two wonderful sentences: “It was the sort of day that didn’t give a damn. Summer was over, the sky was low and drained of color, and dead leaves hung like crepe along the road.” Even nature is in tune with the fact that callous and avaricious men, whose power and wealth shield them from the law, routinely target anyone who stands in their way. Tatiana Petrovna, the title character, is one such victim, a fearless investigative journalist and troublemaker who dares to expose her country’s rampant corruption. She was furious at “lawmakers who were sucking the state treasury dry” and “billionaires who had their arms around the nation’s timber and natural gas.” When she falls off the balcony of her apartment, the authorities refuse to consider that someone murdered Tatiana to keep her from telling the world what she knew. They rule her death a suicide; there will be no inquest and no autopsy.

Moscow-based detective Arkady Renko is himself a crusader of sorts. He has not risen in the ranks because he refuses to look the other way when his superiors order him to do so. Renko and his sometime lover, Anya Rudenko, make the acquaintance of Alexi, the son of dead billionaire mob boss Grisha Grigorenko. Among other activities, Grisha “had his thumb in drugs, arms, and prostitution.” Alexi wants to grab control of his father’s empire and plans to eliminate anyone who tries to stop him.

Arkady uses his powers of deduction and finely honed instincts to solve difficult puzzles. His inquiry into Tatiana’s death takes him to Kaliningrad, formerly called Königsberg, a seaport city on the Baltic coast that is famous for its rich supplies of amber. Arkady’s friend, a seventeen-year-old chess prodigy named Zhenya, stumbles into Renko’s case with unintended consequences. Chaos ensues, bullets fly, and Arkady takes a courageous stand that could cost him his life. Smith creates a rich tapestry of sights and sounds and introduces us to a variety of off-beat characters, including a dissipated poet; various crime bosses (such as Abdul Khan, a Chechen rebel turned automobile smuggler turned hip-hop artist) and their hangers-on; and a beautiful young girl who can actually beat the brilliant Zhenya at chess. All of this, in addition to Smith’s elegant writing and caustic humor, makes Tatiana an involving and entertaining thriller that is also a biting critique of those who habitually line their pockets at the expense of honest, ordinary citizens.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 219 readers
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster (November 12, 2013)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Martin Cruz Smith
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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January 17, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Russia, Sleuths Series

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