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This is the fifth book of Martin Cruz Smith's featuring the cynical, Russian police investigator Arkady Renko. It centers around the apparent suicide of Russia's wealthiest oligarch, who fell 10 stories from his apartment window with a salt shaker in his hand. The investigation takes a twist when a pile of salt is found in his bedroom closet.

 

First off, I don't often read mysteries, as I find them to be trite and over the top, with the feeling of being phoned-in rather than thoughtfully-written. Martin Cruz Smith is one of the rare exceptions that I have found (he isn't one of those book-a-year kind of writers). His Arkady Renko stories, and this one is no exception, manage to rise above the simple whodunit, realizing that 'who' isn't as important as the lessons that can be learned from 'why'.

 

His strengths are: extremely intricate plots, vivid imagery, and crisp, if somewhat abstract, dialogue. There is never a wasted word, and I have seldom read an author who could say so much in so few words. Every scene has a purpose, and closes with a comment or summation that lets the reader know more was going on than just a conversation. His observations about Russia, crime, and people are all delivered with a note of conviction and finesse.

 

My only real complaint about this book would be Arkady's salvation at the climax. I think Mr. Smith is an accomplished enough writer now, and should be able to present a more satisfying climax. However, one small detail can't ruin the brilliant set-up and commentary of the previous several hundred pages.

 

Much of this story takes place in the 30km Evacuation Zone surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear facility in Ukraine. Given that April 26, 2006 will be the 20th anniversary of the accident, it is a timely book to read; one that combines actual history with scientific and environmental discussion... and suspense.

 

I would heartily recommend this book - as well as his landmark mystery novel, Gorky Park - to anyone who likes well-written thrillers.

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I'm not sure where to put this, so I'll just tag it on to this post as it deals with Martin Cruz Smith and Russia:

 

For people interested, Martin Cruz Smith has an article in the August 2008 National Geographic about Moscow and the New Russians. It's informative and has a few lines that are quintessentially him--even a few plugs for his Arkady Renko novels. Even if you don't end up buying the magazine, it's worth the few minutes to read it in the store.

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Yes, his newest is called Stalin's Ghost, but I haven't read it yet. I'll probably give it a go sometime in the next couple of months now that the price has been reduced. He's written two Renko novels in a row now, I wonder what his next one will be.

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Rose is the best of his non-Renko novels, and it's easily as good as his Renko ones. It's actually my second favorite after Gorky Park. Here's a link to the BGO thread on Rose.

 

Note to the moderators: I goofed up the author's name in the Rose thread. It should be Martin Cruz Smith, not Smith Martin Cruz. Can someone please change it? Thanks.

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Note to the moderators: I goofed up the author's name in the Rose thread. It should be Martin Cruz Smith, not Smith Martin Cruz. Can someone please change it? Thanks.

Just noticed that it wasn't changed, so tried to do it for you. Unfortunately, there seems to be a problem with the mod tools tonight, and it won't work. :mad:

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