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Smith, Martin Cruz - 'Tatiana'
Hardback: 336 pages (Nov. 2013) Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK ISBN: 1849838100

TATIANA by Martin Cruz Smith, author of the smash hit, '80s thriller, GORKY PARK, is the eighth book in his series featuring intrepid Moscow investigator Arkady Renko, set in contemporary Russia.

The book beings with the murder of professional interpreter Joseph on a deserted Kaliningrad beach, killed because of the notebook he kept in his own cryptic shorthand. The action then moves back to Moscow, and Renko. A straightforward assignment to attend the funeral of the murdered Mafia don, Grisha Grishenko leads Renko onto more treacherous ground when he inadvertently becomes tangled up in a demonstration about the suspicious death of crusading journalist Tatiana Petrovna. Renko is himself the victim of police brutality at the protest, but is inspired by the protest to take a closer look at the investigation into Tatiana's death.

Renko soon finds a great deal of resistance to his attempts to delve deeper into inconsistencies in the official version of Tatiana's death, a purported suicide by leaping from a height from her apartment. As Tatiana was a determined battler against corruption, the number of people with motive to kill her is numerous, particularly amongst the criminal world. Renko starts to wonder if the roots of Tatiana's death lie in her hometown, Kaliningrad, as Tatiana visited Kaliningrad just before her death, to meet with Joseph, and obtain the coded notebook. The notebook proves to be the dominant theme of the book; despite its lack of clear meaning, fellow journalists, the criminal fraternity,Tatiana's former lover, ageing poet Maxim, and Renko's adopted son, “chess creep” and high school dropout Zhenya all have an interest in getting hold of it. When Renko travels to Kaliningrad to investigate, he soon finds the local police far from cooperative, and that the wandering sands of the coastal beaches can conceal some heinous crimes.

Cruz Smith paints a very critical picture of Putin's Russia, where corruption flourishes, the lines between organised crime and big business are blurred, investigative journalism can be lethal and the police cannot be relied upon to investigate offences involving the rich and powerful. Kaliningrad is a particularly interesting setting for much of the second half of the book. Formerly the Prussian Konigsberg (famous for the Konigsberg bridge problem and for being home to philosopher Immanual Kant), Kaliningrad was a closed region for military strategic reasons during the USSR era. Post-USSR days, Kaliningrad remains an important port and home to the amber industry, but also has been particularly plagued by organised crime. The characterisation of Renko, and troubled relationship with his on-off girlfriend, Anya, and with his adoptive son are touchingly and convincingly depicted. TATIANA is a well written, gripping thriller with a strong sense of place, with a thoughtful approach to its material, and I am now very keen to read the first and most famous novel in the series, GORKY PARK.

Laura Root, England
February 2014

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 13/02/2014 19:44