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Gorky Park: 10/15/06

Gorky Park

Although I love thrillers and "man books" as I often heard them called, I usually avoid the Soviet Union based stories. For whatever reason, the KGB bores me. There are a few exceptions to the rule like From Russia with Love and The Red Fox. Gorky Park isn't exactly a KGB thriller but they are there as foils to Moscow detective, Arkady Renko. In fact it is their role across so many books as foils and cardboard cutout villains that contributes to so much of my boredom in the sub-genre of the KGB thriller.

The bulk of Gorky Park's mystery could have happened anywhere. It is a triple murder where the bodies have had most identifying features removed and the bodies left to freeze out in the middle of a park. Those working on the case must: identify the bodies, determine cause of death, find and interview potential "persons of interest" and hopefully track down a suspect with enough evidence to warrant an arrest. These tasks require time, skill, a degree of luck, and resources. By choosing Moscow at the nadir of the Soviet Union, Smith forces a number of restraints on his mystery: corruption, a meddling police state, and no financial support for a large case.

Over all I liked the change of scenery from the usual cities the mysteries I read take place: London, San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York, but Smith seemed to take much too long building his world and commenting on the bleak life style of the typical detective in Moscow. After a while, all this commentary from various characters on what life in the city was like seemed artificial and a hindrance to the story.

Here is my BookCrossing review:

Arkady Renko is an overworked, underpaid, under-resourced Moscow detective faced with a triple murder. Thus begins Arkady's fight against the KGB, FBI and NYPD and his trip from the Soviet Union to the United States. Everyone has his own agenda and everyone is working at cross purposes leaving Arkady to pick his allies as he best he can to solve the case.

While I enjoyed the intrigue, the story drags in parts where the author spends too much of his time describing just how bad things are for working class stiffs in Moscow under the Communist regime. Especially early on, every new scene begins with a description of the set and how bad things are. While these descriptions are good for creating the setting and building the mood, they also hinder the flow of the story. It also takes the story a long time (more than 100 pages) to introduce all the characters and set up the dynamic of their interactions. The story doesn't really hit its stride until all the players are in place.

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