Investigator Arkady Renko, the pariah of the Moscow prosecutor's office, has been assigned the thankless job of investigating a new phenomenon: late-night subway riders report seeing the ghost of Joseph Stalin on the platform of the Chistye Prudy Metro station. The illusion seems part political hocus-pocus and also part wishful thinking, for among many Russians Stalin is again popular; the bloody dictator can boast a two-to-one approval rating. Decidedly better than that of Renko, whose lover, Eva, has left him for Detective Nikolai Isakov, a charismatic veteran of the civil war in Chechnya, a hero of the far right and, Renko suspects, a killer for hire. The cases entwine, and Renko's quests become a personal inquiry fueled by jealousy.
The investigation leads to the fields of Tver outside of Moscow, where once a million soldiers fought. There, amidst the detritus, Renko must confront the ghost of his own father, a favorite general of Stalin's. In these barren fields, patriots and shady entrepreneurs -- the Red Diggers and Black Diggers -- collect the bones, weapons and personal effects of slain World War II soldiers, and find that even among the dead there are surprises.
Moscow-based Senior Investigator Arkady Renko, in his outstanding sixth outing (after Wolves Eat Dogs), investigates a murder-for-hire scheme that leads him to suspect two fellow police detectives, Nikolai Isakov and Marat Urman, both former members of Russia's elite Black Berets, who served in Chechnya. Isakov, a war hero, is now running for public office. Renko must also look into reports that the ghost of Stalin has begun appearing on subway platforms and why several bodies of Black Berets who served in Chechnya with Isakov have turned up in the morgue. Despite repeated threats to his life, Renko stubbornly perseveres, seeking justice in a land that has no official notion of that concept. Smith eschews vertiginous twists and surprises, concentrating instead on Renko as he slowly and patiently builds his case until the pieces fall together and he has again, if not exactly triumphed, at least survived. This masterful suspense novel casts a searing light on contemporary Russia. 250,000 first printing. (June)
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Simon & Schuster
June 12, 2007
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Excerpt from Stalin's Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith
It was two in the morning, an hour that was both early and late. Two A.M. was a world to itself.
Zoya Filotova wore her black hair severely trimmed as if to defiantly display the bruise below her eye. She was about forty, Arkady thought, stylishly sinewy in a red leather pantsuit and a golden cross that was purely ornamental. She sat on one side of the booth, Arkady and Victor on the other, and although Zoya had ordered a brandy she had yet to touch it. She had long red fingernails and as she turned a cigarette pack over and over Arkady was put in mind of a crab inspecting dinner. The cafe was a chrome affair above a car wash on the beltway. No car washes tonight, not with snow falling, and the few cars that made it to the cafe were SUVs with four-wheel drive. The exceptions were Arkady's Zhiguli and Victor's Lada crouching in a corner of the lot.
Victor sipped a Chivas, just maintaining. Drinks were expensive and Victor had the patience of a camel. Arkady had a modest glass of water; he was a pale man with dark hair and the stillness of a professional observer. Thirty-six hours without sleep had made him more still than usual.
Zoya said, "My heart hurts more than my face."
"A broken heart?" Victor suggested as if it were his specialty.
"My face is ruined."
"No, you're still a beautiful woman. Show my friend what else your husband did."
The drivers and bodyguards who occupied stools along the bar were contemplative, cradling their drinks, sucking their cigarettes, keeping their balance. A couple of bosses compared Florida tans and snapshots of Sleeping Beauty. Zoya brushed the crucifix out of the way so she could unzip the top of her pantsuit and show Arkady a bruise that ran like a grape stain on the smooth plane of her breast.
"Your husband did this?" Arkady asked.
She zipped up and nodded.
"You'll be safe soon," Victor reassured her. "Animals like that should not be walking the street."
"Before we married he was wonderful. I have to say even now that Alexander was a wonderful lover."
"That's natural," Victor said. "You try to remember the good times. How long have you been married?"
Would the snow ever end? Arkady wondered. A Pathfinder rolled up to a gas pump. The mafia was getting conservative; now that they had seized and established their separate territories they were defenders of the status quo. Their children would be bankers and their children would be poets, something like that. Count on it, in fifty years, a golden age of poetry.
Arkady rejoined the conversation. "Are you sure you want to do this? People change their minds."
"Maybe your husband will change his ways."
"Not him." She smiled with an extra twist. "He's a brute. Now I don't dare go to my own apartment, it's too dangerous."
"You've come to the right place," Victor said and solemnized the moment with a sip. Cars droned by, each at a different pitch.
Arkady said, "We'll need phone numbers, addresses, keys. His routine, habits, where he hangs out. I understand you and your husband have a business near the Arbat."
"On the Arbat. Actually, it's my business."
"Matchmaking. International matchmaking."
"What is the company's name?"
"Really?" That was interesting, Arkady thought. A quarrel in Cupid's bower? "How long have you had this business?"
"Ten years." Her tongue rested for a moment on her teeth as if she were going to say more and changed her mind.
"You and your husband both work there?"
"All he does is stand around and smoke cigarettes and drink with his mates. I do the work, he takes the money and when I try to stop him, he hits me. I warned him, this was the last time."