Pros: Not bad, as most of the Renko novels are, but this just felt tired.
Cons: Nothing really new here. I do wish there was a 'maybe' recommend button.
Some authors I just automatically pick up their books when a new one is published, and usually find them to be worth the impulse purchase. This has pretty much been the case with author Martin Cruz Smith and his novels about the world weary Russian inspector, Arkady Renko.
In this, the seventh novel in the series, Three Stations, the three stations are those that cluster around Lyubianka Square, where the Moscow metro intersects with the long haul trains that bisect what remains of the once-vast Soviet Union. Still crowded, still moving people and frieght, it has also become the haunt of drug smugglers, packs of semi-feral children, and those for whom crime is a lucrative and inventive source of funds.
Zhenya, the teenager that Renko sort of takes care of, hustles money from unsuspecting chess players, and is an unusual loner -- even the gangs leave him alone and call him the 'Genius.' But this time, all of his street smarts isn't quite enough to help Maya, a young teenager that turns up claiming that someone has stolen her baby on one of the trains coming into Moscow.
Maya, young and pretty and not quite ruined by her life as a child prostitute is desperate, focused only on finding her child. Here in Moscow, she trusts no one, and believes even fewer, and will do whatever it takes to get her Katya back. But what she doesn't know is that there are men who are willing to use her as an example to the other prostitutes that they control and that they are very very close to her.
In the meantime, Arkady has plenty of his own problems to face. Eva, the doctor that he met when he went to the environs of Chernobyl, has left him and he feels that incessant tug of depression calling him. He's also trying to help a fellow detective, Victor, who has an uncontrollable itch for alcohol, and at the start of the story, Arkady is retrieving him out of a drunk tank near the Three Stations.
Near those stations, a young woman is found carved up in a trailer, and the trail leds to one of Russia's oligarchs, Sasha Vaksberg, obscenely wealthy and a target for the new rulers of the Kremlin. Once the owner of a vast array of nightclubs and casinos, Vaksberg has been closed down to a single club, the Nijinsky, where those that have it come for a bit of oohing and ahhing at the high wire acts. And Vaksberg has a very nice deal for Renko, if Renko wants it.
Because this time, Renko is up to his neck in trouble, with a prosecutor wanting to see him permanently out of the detective business, or better yet, dead. There's a murderous Dopey, petite ballerinas, journalists, and some truly twisted relationships here, and everything keeps doubling back to the Three Stations...
This was an interesting, but not great, Renko novel. Compared to other books in the series, I kept feeling as though I had seen and heard all of this one before. While there are some deeply unsettling moments, and several good action sequences, there really wasn't enough to make me keep my interest throughout very much. Much of the vividness and introspection that has keep the earlier books in the series to be such pageturners for me just wasn't here.
Sensitive readers may want to be warned that there are some pretty grim and grisly deaths here, several of them involving children, and the trade of children as prostitutes so this is not for the young at all.
The writing is good, but the overall effect just didn't really come together. This is probably the weakest of the series that I have come across so far, and even Arkady Renko in the middle of his dark and ruminating soul is a pale copy of his earlier selves. I say, unless you're a die hard fan of the character, you may just want to skip this one and wait for the next one to see what Martin Cruz Smith comes up with next.
Only three stars. Not really recommended.
The Arkady Renko Series:
Wolves Eat Dogs
Three Stations -- you are here
Please note: The title of the novel was changed to Three Stations at publication, but the Epinions entry here uses the older title, The Golden Mile.
Three Stations: An Arkady Renko Novel
Martin Cruz Smith
2010; Simon & Schuster