BOOK REPORT: POLAR STAR BY MARTIN CRUZ SMITH
As far as mystery/thrillers, this book pretty much has it all: a decrepit old massive fish-gutting factory ship, sailing through icy Arctic waters, a floating piece of a dying totalitarian empire, a sprightly SIberian succubus murdered and cast over the side, a detective cast so far out of his world that we find him slaving on the “slime line” in the hold of said ship. Who could ask for anything more?
Two books into Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko books, I am finding it to be one of the great detective series of the contemporary age. The plotting is flawless, intricate but never completely loses you. Renko is a great, great character, witty but with this deep sense of Russian melancholy and irony about how horrible everything is certain to go.
The good thing about setting detective novels under a totalitarian regime is when the regime decides they want you to stop poking around in a case that’s declared closed, it gives the detective a massive obstacle to overcome. The bad thing is that the pathos that detectives seek out and uncover thrives best in the dark, murky corners of open societies - the forgotten places where horrors can breed. The problem with totalitarian societies is that there are few murky dark corners because the state sees so much. ”Who knows the evil that lurks in the heart of men?” The Shadow’s tagline speaks for all noir detectives. They alone understand and have the will to root out that evil. But in totalitarian societies, the state knows…or tries to know it first. The evils done are more typically done by the society than by lone predators against it. Or even powerful predators…still working in the shadows.
Cruz Smith however, finds the dark corners that still existed even under Soviet rule and plants in them species of darkness which would be right at home in the noir Universe. Never less than an extremely fun read.