TATIANA by Martin Cruz Smith

“What do you want? The murder of journalists, the beating of protesters, corruption at the top, the rape of natural resources by a circle of cronies, a fraudulent democracy, the erection of palaces, a hollow military.  If you had been a source, the mention of any of this could earn you or someone close to you a bullet in the head.  It’s all here in single-spaced articles.” (237)  What follows is the culmination of Martin Cruz Smith’s eighth installment of his Arkady Renko series, TATIANA, a story that encapsulates the rot that exists in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Arkady Renko is an investigator attached to the prosecutors office in Moscow who has survived the old Soviet Union and and finds himself in the “New Russia” under very similar circumstances.  In his other adventures found in Smith’s earlier books, GORKY PARK, STALIN’S GHOST, POLAR STAR among others we meet a stubborn man who believes in the truth, in a society that does not.  According to Smith during an interview on  NPR’s Diane Rhems program last Monday, the character of Tatiana Petrovna is modeled after a Russian journalist who was murdered because her writing exposed the corruption that dominates the oligarchy that now controls Russia.  That journalist was “Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative journalist who was a strident critic of the Kremlin, who was murdered in 2006…Amid international clamor for answers regarding her death, Mr. Putin…noted caustically that ‘the level of her influence on political life in Russia was utterly insignificant.’…Ms. Politkovskaya’s editor at Novaya Gazeta, Dimitri Muratov, has maintained from the beginning that she was killed because her investigations were threatening the financial interests of figures within Russia.” (New York Times, June 26, 2009).

 

The storyline in TATIANA reads as if it were another contemporary plot that was unfolding in Russia, this one centering on oligarchs or gangsters who hoped to reap millions of rubles involving a Chinese shipyard repair of a Russian submarine.  Arkady Renko’s investigation includes; the Russian Defense Ministry, various Russian billionaires, details of high end cycling, and a number of unsavory characters that are based on Smith’s extensive research in Russia.  The book begins with the murder of Tatiana and evolves from there.   The usual twists and turns that one comes to expect from Smith permeate the plot carrying Renko from Moscow to Kaliningrad as he investigates the murder of Tatiana who supposedly jumped from  her apartment and committed suicide.  Renko learns that when she jumped that she screamed, something people who are taking there own lives do not usually do.  With his interest peaked Renko is off and the reader is now engaged in another thriller that will keep them enthralled through the final page.  I really do not want to give any more details because it will lessen the reading experience, but I guarantee if you enjoy international mysteries and want to gain insight into Putin’S Russia this will be a good read.

 

After completing the book I thought of the upcoming winter olympics in Sochi that had an initial budget of $12.5 billion that has now ballooned to over $50 billion.  When Renko finally traps the perpetrators of the swindle which is the core of the novel, Ape, the nickname for one of the characters, responds to Renko’s concerns about having a Russian submarine refitted in China and the overall cost of $2billion, “Yes. It’s called outsourcing…Business costs.  Totally normal.  Administration of a task of this magnitude is often fifty percent of a budget.” (275)  I guess that Sochi overruns are somewhat larger than expected, even by Russian standards

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