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.
In Martin Cruz Smith’s Three Stations, Arkady Kyrilovich Renko, Senior Investigator of Important Cases, may be nearing the end of his career. He has a bitter enemy in Prosecutor Zurin, who detests Renko’s tendency to “disregard orders and overstep [his] authority.” Zurin “exemplified the modest ambition of a cork…. He floated and survived.” When Renko and his perennially inebriated buddy, Sergeant Victor Orlov (“the smell of vodka came off him like heat from a stove”) look into the suspicious death of a beautiful young woman, they are ordered to declare the case a drug overdose and drop the matter. Ever the maverick, Renko decides to find the killer and worry about the consequences later.