Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith

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Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith

Category: Crime
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: Ed Robson
Reviewed by Ed Robson
Summary: Tatiana, Cruz Smith’s eighth Arkady Renko novel, is a flimsy addition to a series of thrillers that appears to be adhering to the law of diminishing returns. This is all the more regrettable given that Renko is, I believe, one of the most compelling characters in modern thriller writing.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 336 Date: November 2013
Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK
ISBN: 978-1-84983-810-8

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Tatiana is the eigth Cruz Smith novel featuring the Russian detective Arkady Renko, with the action taking place in Moscow and Kaliningrad. For those new to Cruz Smith’s books, they offer a novel twist on the modern murder thriller, set as they are in Eastern Europe; and in Arkady Renko, the archetype of the hard-bitten detective is given extra frisson by the knowledge that – in the early novels at least – his trademark insubordination can lead to rather more severe consequences than those faced by Western detectives. Whilst the first four novels were both engrossing and complex, the latter novels have felt increasingly light, as though Cruz Smith has been treading water and relying on the appeal of his central character to keep readers returning. Tatiana continues this trend and is, in consequence, one of the weakest in the series.

The plot of Tatiana hinges on a well-used trope of detective fiction: the obsessed policeman seeing foul play in the death of a controversial character, where everyone else sees suicide and shows an unwillingness to probe further into the circumstances of the death; but whilst Renko’s stubbornness to accept the view of the authorities added a welcome element of tension to previous novels, here it simply feels perfunctory. Perhaps it is simply that as a character, Renko has run out of road. As an avid reader of Cruz Smith, the overall feeling I was left with at the end of Tatiana was one of simple disappointment.

When Renko was introduced to the reading public in Gorky Park, his anti-establishment attitude carried a palpable sense of danger, set as the novel was in the pre-glasnost Soviet Union. Cruz Smith then charted a compelling course for his Russian sleuth, setting subsequent novels in a country emerging from the yoke of communism, facing new challenges as Russian society (and the state apparatus that Renko worked for) struggled with its new place in the world. What makes Tatiana so disappointing is that it feels like just another detective novel, with the social context, so effective in works like Polar Star, a minor influence. Smith ensures that social dynamics are not ignored completely – Renko first appears at the funeral of a post-Soviet mobster – but he also relies too much on predictable elements such as the obligatory sexual relationship with an initially hostile colleague and the inclusion of an alcoholic detective partner, whose drinking problem appears to be his only discernible character trait.

In fairness, Tatiana has enjoyable elements – Renko’s relationship with Zhenya (a young man he has taken de facto parental responsibility for) remains brittle, antagonistic but above all, believable. Also, there is an interesting plot diversion featuring Italian racing bicycles, which if nothing else helps demonstrate the new Russia’s improved connection with the outside world. Also, fans of the Renko novels will be glad to find that Arkady has lost none of his pessimism and world-weariness.

Sadly though, much of the novel fails to match the depth of plot and characterisation evident in earlier works such as Gorky Park. I also yearned for a line as vibrant and evocative as that in Red Square, when a colleague tells Renko that observing you smoke is like watching someone commit suicide. In contrast, the opening line of TatianaIt was the sort of day that didn’t give a damn – is cod Bukowski and unworthy of a writer as accomplished as Cruz Smith. In previous novels, Renko’s readiness to court death in order to protect innocents was anchored in a pessimism about the worth of his own existence. In Tatiana, he has a reason to live – his love for and duty towards Zhenya – yet his willingness to face a murderer at the novel’s denouement feels strangely without any tension.

For readers who are new to the Renko books, Tatiana does stand up as a passable detective novel with just enough plot invention (in particular, the detective’s attempts to unlock coded information) to maintain your interest. However, as a long-time fan of Arkady and his particular brand of hard-bitten scepticism, I found the novel to be further evidence of a decline in invention and narrative power that began with Wolves Eat Dogs.

FURTHER READING:

Turkish Gambit by Boris Akunin and Murder on the Leviathan by Boris Akunin - two other crime novels from Russia, based in the pre-revolutionary period.

Buy Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith at Amazon.com.


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