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The International Writers Magazine: Review

Stalin’s Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith
Publisher: Macmillan, Great Britain (2007)
ISBN: 978-1-4050-9049-0 (HB)
9780-230-01394-0 (TPB)

Price: £17.99
Louise Webster

I am a firm believer of trying out new things and when this novel was put before me it was exciting opportunity to experience something different. For those who want something perhaps slightly unusual or something with depth, then this book is highly recommended. The novel is the sixth installment of Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko series. By itself or included with the whole collection, it is definitely a compelling read.

Set in Cruz Smith’s bleak and chilling Moscow, blanketed in heavy falling snow and ice, a sense of hopelessness does float between pages in a powerful manner. This is reflected by when Arkady and Eva (his girlfriend found in Wolves Eat Dogs) describe Moscow to be like Atlantis, the city buried in snow, almost like a forgotten dream. The setting is harsh and brisk and at the same time is sensuous that the mood of the story is enveloped within the wintered scenery of Mother Russia.

Arkady, the Ukrainian senior investigator who is stationed in Moscow is an enthralling protagonist, suspicious and cynical and delightfully twisted with a hint of bitterness in which is caused from his deranged past and the stimulating characters that he comes across. Living with his girlfriend Eva, a Ukrainian physician, and his adopted son Zhenya, who is a persistent runaway and chess playing genius, it is clear to see that Arkady’s life is far from simple. Instead of playing a dashing careless heroic character, Arkady has not only his dark investigation to pull through, but has the same hard problems as most middle-aged men. He also shows a mental struggle of his childhood with his harsh General father who resented him for his mother’s suicide. Even so Arkady is likeable, someone who the reader may relish for his logical abilities and contemptuous personality.

Arkady is appointed to investigate the sighting of the ghost of Stalin at the Chistye Prudy metro station. Whether or not this ghost actually exists, Arkady sees the gullibility of the public being manipulated by Arkady’s enemy, Nikolai Isakov a supposed war hero and a member of a secret police organisation named the Black Berets. Arkady’s dislike for Isakov stems from Isakov’s dicey detective work and his rivalling love interest for Eva. Isakov’s manipulation of the public is aided by a broadcasting producer named Zelensky who uses the sighting of Stalin as help towards Isakov’s campaign in the Russian Patriots party. Arkady suspicions are strong throughout mostly because of jealously and his intuitive nature. However even with Arkady’s experience and talents, he is nowhere close to being prepared for what danger his investigation leads to.

In conclusion, starting the novel was a tad slow, maybe I was expecting too much at first, but once settling into the story and developing relationships with the characters, especially with Arkady and Eva, then the story became so rich and involved. Martin Cruz Smith shows great talent in seducing the reader into this tale; the multi strand narrative is far from simple. I can only really say that this book is deliciously dark. Although the cold stiffness of Moscow seems so slow, the storyline is constantly surprising with unexpected violent bursts, shootings, murders, risky encounters. This novel was also extremely intriguing how the public in the book reacted to Stalin’s ghost, as if destalinization had never taken place. The Russian people are trapped in time, loving and worshipping the dictator. It seems almost like a dark fairytale that Russia has stayed frozen in time whilst the rest of the world has melted and moved on.
© Louise Webster November 2007

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