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Wolves Eat Dogs: An Arkady Renko Novel    by Martin Cruz Smith order for
Wolves Eat Dogs
by Martin Cruz Smith
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Readers were first introduced to investigator Arkady Renko in Gorky Park, now a classic of the genre. Fans like myself have followed his trials and (many) tribulations through Polar Star, Red Square, and Havana Bay. He's back once more, as cynical as ever, in a modern Moscow dominated by the Russian Mafia.

It begins with the puzzling suicide of NoviRus CEO Pasha Ivanov. What's with all the salt in the luxurious apartment he jumped from, and why was there a salt cellar under the body? Ivanov's Jewish American henchman, Bobby Hoffman, keeps Senior Investigator Renko in the game, despite the opposition of his boss, Prosecutor Zurin. The latter survived six Kremlin regimes by his agility in tacking with prevailing political winds. Arkady's sidekick, and foil, Victor is a tough, selfish survivor, who nevertheless occasionally helps move the investigation forward. Opposing Renko is ex-KGB Colonel Ozhogin, now head of NoviRus Security, and willing to do whatever it takes to avoid negative PR for the company. Of Ozhogin, Renko muses that KGB agents 'had prospered, moving like crows to new trees.'

Ivanov's girlfriend Rina mentions something bad, that happened around May Day, in the millionaire's past. Soon, another death brings to light a Chernobyl connection, and Arkady is exiled there, to investigate in 'The Zone', the radioactive environs of the nuclear disaster, full of ghost towns where no-one officially lives. Renko slowly creates a registry of illegal inhabitants of 'black villages' - 'old folks, squatters, scavengers, poachers and thieves' and gradually wins some acceptance from these folk and from scientists studying the aftermath of the explosion. There are more deaths, as well as an unlikely romance between Arkady and prickly physician Eva Kazka. Renko also mentors a lost, traumatized boy, young Zhenya, who's fascinated by the Russian story of 'Baba Yaga'.

I found Renko's investigation in this closed community reminiscent of the author's historical thiller Rose, set in another closed community in a horrific unhealthy environment, that of the Welsh mines. This latest thriller is as exciting and unusual as we've come to expect of this stubborn hero, whose survival at times seemed very doubtful. When queried about his obsession with Ivanov's death early on, the Investigator wonders 'Whose death is worth it? Only good people? Only saints?' He clearly believes differently, and follows through on his convictions, despite high risk to career and person. I enjoyed Wolves Eat Dogs as much as Gorky Park, and hope we won't wait too long for more of Arkady Renko.

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