Friday, 21 February 2014

Book Review: Tatiana

Martin Cruz Smith
(Photo credit: Mark Coggins)
Martin Cruz Smith's first big bang bestseller was Gorky Park, still held up as a remarkable example of the detective/spy thriller genre. My genre, in fact. The one I write in. And I happen to consider Mr Cruz Smith to be among the very best of his kind. What's perhaps depressing is that after Gorky Park he's never really seemed to become a massive international bestselling author along the lines of Deaver et al. Sure, he's popped 'em into the NYT list every time, but I never felt he got quite the accolade he deserved. Maybe he has and I've just missed it.

His work is consistent, solid and bang on genre. I read Havana the other week and enjoyed myself immensely - it's another 'Arkady Renko' novel (Renko being the star of Gorky Park) and a thoroughly entertaining romp around corrupt Cuba. There's even a touch of Rum Diaries to it, which I loved. Both the Hunter Thompson book and the touch. Actually, and the film - although that's an unfashionable opinion, I know. It was something of a box office tank, that one.

I digress.

Tatiana is the latest Arkady Renko novel and will cost you a staggering £7.99 as a Kindle ebook. That's a hell of a price for an ebook - I usually wouldn't pay more than £4.99 simply because above that publishers are merely taking the mickey. I have turned my back on novelists whose work I have consistently enjoyed at this price point before, more a matter of principle than anything, but I weakened. Cruz Smith is very, very good after all.

I'm not sad I did, although even being a millionth of a percent responsible for convincing the yoyo toting cretins in mainstream publishers that this price point is acceptable to ebook readers still makes me feel guilty.

Tatiana is Cruz Smith at his finest. It's probably a better book than Gorky Park all in all. The self-hating Renko (The son of a badass old Soviet-era General who hated him and considered him a soft Southern shandy drinking poofter, Renko keeps a revolver in his safe and a single bullet in his bookcase) is once again drifting around looking for trouble. His dogged pursuit of 'inconvenient' cases has destroyed his career, leaving him an investigator still rather than a prosecutor or even higher - everyone agrees if Renko had just gone with the script instead of being an awkward bastard that's where he'd be. Renko's got a bullet lodged in his brain that could move and kill him at any time.

He really doesn't give a shit. Got it?

He's on the trail of the murderers of journalist Tatiana Petrovna, who has been investigating some big-time crooked oligarchs and 'fallen off' her balcony as a consequence. What follows is a dash across Russia, from Moscow to Kaliningrad, featuring old soak coppers, officials on the take, gunmen and mafiosos and much dashing around and shooting things. Renko's chess-playing genius of a ward makes a reappearance and hooks up with a check-mating red-head babe as he gets sucked up into the mayhem, a splash of humanity propelled pell-mell through a soup of corruption, fatcats and wickedness. It's brilliantly written stuff, painstakingly researched, with plot points built around the unlikeliest of things - handmade racing bicycles, the symbolic language of international interpreters' notes and Chinese shipyards all make an appearance. The dialogue is bang on, Renko's self-loathing actually endearing and the love interest suitably lovely.

It's quirky, fresh and dynamic. The pace never really lets up and it's one of those books you find yourself standing naked on cold ceramic tiles and reading because you just don't want to close the Kindle.

That might have been too much detail. Sorry.

Tatiana half made me want to give up writing and half inspired me to try harder. It's a brilliantly crafted book that has its flaws - there's some sloppy editing (FOR SEVEN POUNDS NINETY NINE!) around the shooting up of a Zil, the endgame's a bit slapdash and not quite worth the build up. That bit reminded me of Smilla's Feeling For Snow - by the time you realise the endgame's a bit off, you've finished the whole thing and enjoyed it all so much it doesn't really matter. But I'm really quibbling here, because I loved this book and finishing it was one of those 'Oh. Bloody hell...' moments when you realise there's no more banoffee pie in the world, ever.

Seriously. Get this book. It's simply glorious fun.
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