Prowling the mean streets of Moscow in search of justice
Historical, classical and biblical references litter the novel but ‘Tatiana’ is a contemporary tale that lifts the lid on the power struggles of modern Moscow
William Hurt (left) as Arkady Renko in ‘Gorky Park’, Michael Apted’s film adaptation from 1983; the Moscow policeman returns in Martin Cruz Smith’s new novel, ‘Tatiana’
‘God knows the truth, but waits,” says one of the characters, quoting Tolstoy, in Martin Cruz Smith’s Tatiana (Simon & Schuster, €11.45). The implicit message is that judgment, and perhaps even justice, are inevitable, although Arkady Renko, the Moscow policeman who made his debut in Gorky Park (1981), isn’t entirely sure.
The death of Tatiana Petrovna, a crusading journalist, appears to have been suicide, but as Renko prowls the mean streets of Moscow, and later the Baltic coast around the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, he discovers that many powerful figures have benefited from the silencing of Tatiana.
Haunted by the voice that whispers from Tatiana’s stash of recordings, the aging and ailing Renko is equally haunted by the shades of the sailors who died on the ill-fated Kursk submarine in August 2000.
Despite the historical, classical and biblical references that litter the novel, however, Tatiana is a contemporary tale in which Renko’s investigation lifts the lid on the power struggles of modern Moscow, as gangsters, terrorists and former KGB agents jostle for position as they scramble for their piece of the pie. The comitragic Renko’s own powers may well be on the wane in this, his eighth outing, but Tatiana confirms that Martin Cruz Smith remains a force to be reckoned with.
Karen Perry is a new writing partnership composed of Karen Gillece and Paul Perry, and their debut, The Boy That Never Was (Penguin/Michael Joseph, €14.99), suggests that it will be the first of many. A prologue set in Tangier in 2005 tells the reader that Harry is guilty of negligence in the death, during an earthquake, of his young son Dillon.
The story then moves on to Dublin in 2010, when Harry believes he sees his missing son on O’Connell Street during an anti-government demonstration. Unable to persuade gardaí that Dillon is alive and well, Harry confesses all to his wife, Robin, which is when we start to realise that Harry has a history of obsession and instability, and that Robin also has secrets she needs to conceal.
The unreliable narrator is a staple of crime and mystery writing, but The Boy That Never Was folds another dimension into the convention by offering a pair of devious narrators. It is a neat trick, especially as each succeeding account casts doubt on the truth of the previous offering’s events and the mental state of its narrator, with the result that this assured debut is equal parts thriller, mystery and fascinating psychological study.
Chris Pavone’s debut, The Expats (2012), won a slew of crime-fiction awards, including the Edgar and Anthony awards for best first novel. His follow-up, The Accident (Faber, €14.99), centres on the imminent publication of a book that could destroy the reputation and political career of a media mogul, Charlie Wolfe.
Opening with a literary agent, Isabel Reed, turning the final page on the potentially explosive manuscript, the story takes off at a ferocious pace as vested interests – including an off-the-books black-ops wing of the CIA – race to prevent the book being published.
Careering through New York publishing, and on to Hollywood via Denmark and Germany, The Accident is a high-concept tale that dares to suggest that a physical book, even in manuscript form, and even in the midst of the digital revolution, can still be subversive and dangerous.
A veteran of the publishing industry – he worked as a nonfiction editor for 15 years – Pavone brings his literary experience (and no small amount of cynicism) to bear on a pacy, globetrotting affair that is equal parts thriller and spy novel.
Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 caused a stir when it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, in 2008. His fourth novel, The Farm (Simon & Schuster, €18.75), begins with Daniel, a Londoner, forced to choose between conflicting accounts from his English father and Swedish mother about what has happened during the months since they retired to rural Sweden. Is his mother, Tilde, a paranoid conspiracy theorist, as his father claims? Or is Daniel’s father part of the conspiracy to cover up the abduction and murder of a 16-year-old girl, as Tilde asserts?
Told for the most part from Tilde’s perspective, The Farm thrives on Daniel’s – and the reader’s – growing awareness that her fantastical story couldn’t possibly be true, and the nagging conviction that her account masks a deeper, and possibly darker, mystery. Smith makes wonderful use of the remote, bleak setting of rural southern Sweden, even as he roots his contemporary Scandi-noir tale in that culture’s folk tales of sinister trolls and mythical forest-dwellers.
Natalie Haynes’ debut, The Amber Fury (Corvus, €18.75), takes its inspiration from classical Greek tragedy. A former theatre director, Alex Morris, moves to Edinburgh from London in the wake of a personal tragedy and finds work teaching dramatherapy to a group of disaffected teenagers.
Oedipus, Orestes, Electra and Cassandra – and, yes, the Furies – all feature in her classes, but Alex is unwittingly playing a version of Pandora, lifting the lid on adolescent angst and obsession as she explores with her pupils themes of revenge and murder.
An elegantly styled psychological mystery-cum-thriller with strong echoes of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (1992), The Amber Fury further offers an intriguing subtextual commentary on the crime/mystery novel, exploring a theme – in parallel with the students’ exploration of the Greek tragedies – that investigates philosophical notions of free will and predeterminism.
Teasing out the tragic plots through dialogue slows the pace, but Haynes compensates with a brooding atmosphere and a thoroughly chilling and unsentimental take on violent death, maddening grief, and a desire for “justice: the real kind, not the legal kind”.