Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Red Square by Martin Cruz Smith

Investigator Arkady Renko is back in Moscow. The remarkable hero of Gorky Park and Polar Star has been in exile, first on the run in Siberia, then in the Bering Sea on a Russian factory ship servicing American fishing trawlers. The city he returns to, the city he last knew when he was head of the homicide department of the Moscow prosecutor's office, is totally different from the one he left. Now the Communist Party is dead, the ruble is worthless, and organized crime is the only entity that functions efficiently in the city. The Russian mafia isn't merely fattening off the economy; it is the economy, the only part of the country that works.

At a black market Arkady meets an underworld banker minutes before the man and his car erupt in flames. As burning dollars and deutsche marks rain down around him, Arkady begins an investigation that leads him not only to the most powerful figures in Moscow today, its mafia chiefs, but also to the great love of his life, Irina Asanova.

The new lords of the city are Borya Gubenko, Sportsman of the Russian Republic turned black marketeer, and Makhmud, the aged leader of the Chechens, the Sicilians of the Russian mafias. There is also the sleek Max Albov, who has defected to the West and back to Moscow, a man who goes wherever the money is, as well as various Party commissars greedily plundering the last assets of the Soviet Union. Caught between them is Arkady, the uncrushable Slav ironist, who can't help wondering whether being an honest man in a bankrupt system isn't a wasted life.

From the smoldering site of the fire Arkady rescues a shortwave radio, and on it he later hears Irina Asanova reading the news about the Soviet Union on Radio Liberty, and emigre station based in Germany. Of course the news is no news to him, but Arkady listens to it like a man who has come back to life. Irina was the cause of his imprisonment and exile, while for her he was the price of her freedom. Now he listens to her as if she were lying in bed next to him.

As Moscow collapses around Arkady like a burning house, he escapes to Irina and to Germany - a new Germany at once Teutonically efficient and frighteningly corrupt - only fo find the Russian mafia already on hand, enjoying the country's good beer, driving BMWs through the Brandenburg Gate, and searching murderously for Investigator Renko, that familiar fugitive, whose destiny is once more to find his lost love and suffer again. - Book Jacket


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