About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, June 8, 2009

#49 - Gorky Park

On Friday night, while Mrhazel and Littlehazel were engrossed in original Star Trek reruns, I finished Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park (Ballantine, 1981). This one's been on my list since I read Child 44 a few months ago; eventually, I'll go back to The Gulag Archipelago and complete the Soviet-era political thriller troika.

The verdict? A decent read, engaging enough, but definitely a period piece. Set (mostly) in the Soviet Union in the early 1980s, it tells the story of Arkady Renko, a Moscow homicide investigator of average ambition and less-than-average Party loyalty who (we suspect) achieved his position only by dint of his father, a famous Stalinist-era general. The novel opens with the case that will change Arkady's life forever: the discovery of three frozen bodies, fingertips removed and faces mutilated to thwart identification, in Moscow's Gorky Park. He and his old nemesis, Major Pribluda of the KGB, respond at the same time, but after tromping around contaminating the crime scene, the KGB washes its hands of the case. Their lack of interest remains even when Arkady discovers one of the victims is an American. Given his history with Pribluda, something about this doesn't sit well with Arkady, and to distract himself from the collapse of his marriage, he immerses himself in an ill-advised investigation to find out who the Gorky Park victims are and who killed them.

For a suspense novel, I found the book a bit slow-paced. Smith's descriptions of Moscow are rich and vivid, and definitely succeeded in giving the reader a sense of place. Unfortunately, his descriptions of his characters are less so (yeah, I know I complain about this with almost every suspense novel I read ... you think I'd learn), and with so many of them to keep track of, this made the story line a bit confusing in places. Suffice it to say that there are elements of international intrigue and plain old ordinary greed at play here, and Arkady ultimately becomes unable to trust anyone. This would be more compelling if we'd gotten to know him well enough to be moved by his plight, but for me, this didn't happen.

All in all, Gorky Park is worth reading if you stumble across a copy and want something you don't need to think too much about (though maybe if I had, the characters and plot twists would have made a bit more sense) -- but not really something that, in our post-Cold War era, seems to have aged very well.

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