Arkady Renko is one of my favourite recurring characters in fiction. For me he is the benchmark for all bumbling, ageing, cranky, out-of-touch, brilliantly clever, wily, flawed genius, anti-establishment detectives.
[Which leads me to the big question: do you pronounce Arkady AR-KAY-DEE or AR-CAR-DEE? I have always thought (and read) Arkady as the former. However the film version of GORKY PARK starring William Hurt as Arkady pronounced it the latter. I would love to know what other people think.]
I also love the Arkday Renko series because, previous to the new book, there have only been 6 previous novels spread of thirty years. It’s almost impossible to get sick of Arkady. Also, thirty years on, each book records a different period of time in Russia’s modern history that is fascinating.
GORKY PARK and POLAR STAR dealt with Russia in the 80s, perestroika and Gorbachev. RED SQUARE was set against the backdrop of the end of the Soviet Union and on coming democracy and capitalism. HAVANA BAY was set in Cuba and looked at its new place in the world (at that time, late 90s) as the last bastion of communism.
HAVANA BAY is also the book that resonated the most with me and was the novel that sealed Arkady Renko as my favourite detective. I don’t want to write a spoiler but throughout the book Renko wears a thick, woolen jumper even though he is in hot and humid Cuba. When you find out why it breaks your heart.
WOLVE EAT DOGS was set in Chernobyl and looked at how mistakes of the Soviet Union were inherited by new nations that broke away from Russia. And STALIN’S GHOST examined the power and influence that the memory and symbol of Stalin still has over Russian politics today.
The latest Renko book, THREE STATIONS, looks at the breakdown of capitalism in Russia. The novel is broken into two stories that are told alternatively but are linked by what is known as Three Stations in Moscow. Three Stations is where Moscow’s three different rail networks all meet up (a bit like Central Station in Sydney). It is also where most of the city’s homeless children congregate and where prostitution and other crime is rife. This also makes it the most confronting book in the series as Renko is in the thick of the dark side of modern Russian life.
Renko fans will be pleased by the new book but I think if this is your first Renko experience you might not understand what is so endearing about the character. GORKY PARK is like a historical novel now thirty years on and is definitely worth checking out. I promise you will be hooked on the series.