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Stalin's Ghost: An Arkady Renko Novel    by Martin Cruz Smith order for
Stalin's Ghost
by Martin Cruz Smith
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Readers have enthusiastically followed cynical investigator Arkady Renko's trials, tribulations and stubborn determination from Gorky Park through Polar Star, Red Square, Havana Bay, and Wolves Eat Dogs. Stalin's Ghost continues from the latter in a modern Moscow dominated by the Russian Mafia and rife with police corruption - the latter personified in Senior Investigator Renko's boss, Prosecutor Zurin.

In Wolves Eat Dogs, Arkady grew close to prickly physician Eva Kazka in the radioactive environs of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. He also unofficially adopted young Zhenya, a lost, traumatized boy - and a chess genius - searching for his father. Now both Eva and Zhenya share Arkady's rooms in Moscow, but Zhenya keeps running away and getting into trouble with a street gang, while Eva seems to be having an affair with one of Renko's colleagues, Nikolai Isakov. The latter is a Chechnya war hero, who's now running for office with the Russian Patriots, with the support of his tough partner Marat Urman. Both were members of Russia's elite Black Berets.

To complete Renko's misery, Zurin has assigned him to investigate sightings of Stalin's ghost on Moscow's underground system. At the same time, he and his alcoholic partner Victor are investigating a killing for hire linked to the police, and Renko finds anomalies in a murder/suicide case assigned to the Black Beret duo. As always, the author treats his protagonist brutally - both physically and emotionally. After more killings (including a reporter with key information) and a near miss for Arkady, he picks remote Tver (Isakov's homeland) supposedly for recuperation. There, the trail leads him to a fascinating group called the Red Diggers, who exhume the dead from old battlefields - and to answers.

In Stalin's Ghost, Martin Cruz Smith delivers another thrilling read, and continues to torment his abused protagonist (if anyone deserves a happily ever after ending, it's Arkady Renko!) who persistently pushes for justice, fighting officialdom and almost impossible odds. In this episode in the ongoing saga, I especially appreciated the window into Arkady's childhood and relationship to his father, the retrospective on Russian history and Stalin's mass murders, and the supreme irony of Investigator Renko - faced with a camera crew - asking himself 'What would Stalin do?' and then following through.

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