Newsletter - Bumsted Picks - Jack

Friday Nov 29 2013
by Jack

I had not found a book that I felt truly fond of before the recent arrival in the store of Martin Cruz Smith’s new Arkady Renko novel, Tatiana. Arkady is easily my favourite flawed policeman. Like most of his ilk, he drinks too much, thinks too much, has mixed relations with a series of women, and is successful only in his devotion to some abstract personal notion of justice. By the time of this novel, the eighth in the series, he has acquired a bullet embedded in his brain that can shift at any moment with catastrophic results. I particularly appreciate Renko books because the author always finds off-the-wall material to enliven the story. I keep thinking, “I didn’t know that!” In this case, he introduces the reader to a virtually unknown oblast (region) of Russia named Kaliningrad. It is on the Baltic, surrounded by Lithuania and Poland and thus physically detached from the remainder of Russia. Acquired immediately after the Second World War, Kaliningrad was emptied of its existing German population who were replaced with Russian citizens; it was the home of Russian naval operations during the Cold War. As well providing an unheralded oblast, Smith also offers an unusual MacGuffin, the private notebook of a murdered translator written in a private code, the decipherment of which is key to the plot. Stir in a dead billionaire Russian gangster, a dead female Russian investigative journalist (both associated with Kaliningrad), family problems with Arkady’s chessplaying ward Zhenya, and a tape recording of Morse code messages from a sunken Russian submarine, and you have all the ingredients for an exciting and rewarding read. Enjoy!

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