A passenger train hurtling through the night. An unwed teenage mother headed to Moscow to seek a new life. A cruel-hearted soldier looking furtively, forcibly, for sex. An infant disappearing without a trace.
So begins Martin Cruz Smith’s masterful Three Stations, a suspenseful, intricately constructed novel featuring Investigator Arkady Renko. For the last three decades, beginning with the trailblazing Gorky Park, Renko (and Smith) have captivated readers with detective tales set in Russia. Renko is the ironic, brilliantly observant cop who finds solutions to heinous crimes when other lawmen refuse to even acknowledge that crimes have occurred. He uses his biting humor and intuitive leaps to fight not only wrongdoers but the corrupt state apparatus as well.
In Three Stations, Renko’s skills are put to their most severe test. Though he has been technically suspended from the prosecutor’s office for once again turning up unpleasant truths, he strives to solve a last case: the death of an elegant young woman whose body is found in a construction trailer on the perimeter of Moscow’s main rail hub. It looks like a simple drug overdose to everyone—except to Renko, whose examination of the crime scene turns up some inexplicable clues, most notably an invitation to Russia’s premier charity ball, the billionaires’ Nijinksy Fair. Thus a sordid death becomes interwoven with the lifestyles of Moscow’s rich and famous, many of whom are clinging to their cash in the face of Putin’s crackdown on the very oligarchs who placed him in power.
Renko uncovers a web of death, money, madness and a kidnapping that threatens the woman he is coming to love and the lives of children he is desperate to protect. In Three Stations, Smith produces a complex and haunting vision of an emergent Russia’s secret underclass of street urchins, greedy thugs and a bureaucracy still paralyzed by power and fear.
Smith's seventh Arkady Renko novel (after Stalin's Ghost) falls short of his usual high standard. The Russian police detective, now a senior investigator, is seriously considering quitting the force because his boss, state prosecutor Zurin, refuses to assign him any cases. Renko seizes the chance to buck Zurin by finding the truth behind the death of a prostitute found in a workers' trailer parked in Moscow's seedy Three Stations (aka Komsomol Square). While the young woman, who Renko guesses is 18 or 19, apparently took a fatal drug overdose, he believes she was murdered. A subplot centering on a mother whose infant is stolen on a train detracts from rather than enhances the main investigation. This disappointing entry does only a superficial job of bringing the reader inside today's Russia. Hopefully, Smith and Renko will return to form next time.
But not quite as good as Tatiana or Wolves... Rushed plot resolutions.
Typical cruz smith: good
Not the greatest of his work--he has some top 100 all time books like December 6--but this book is good enough to beat most books released this year.
Try reading it on paper. I personally love anything Renko, even trash like three stations. Of course the only Renko books worth their weight in print are the first two. I actually read Polar Star before I read Gorky Park, just the order I found them in. Give Smith a break. Wolves...Dogs is great, but I lost intrest in stalins ghost. If what you seek is an exceptional Renko-like extension, read "Rose."