Good cop, bad system

Bob Moyer reviews No. 10 in a popular mystery/international thriller series that provides insights into contemporary Russia along with a gripping story.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

INDEPENDENCE SQUARE. By Martin Cruz Smith. Simon & Schuster. 272 pages. $26.99

Moscow policeman Arkady Renko has been a good cop in a bad system, surviving and fighting crime through every totalitarian Russian regime since 1982. He has fought killers, thieves, spies, crooked cops, crooked politicians – he has even fought a bear. He has never, however, faced two adversaries like the ones in this, his 10th novel – combat dolphins and Parkinson’s disease. The dolphins he works around, but the disease — he, like his creator, Martin Cruz Smith, has to live with it.

Tied to a desk, bereft because his girlfriend has left him, dragged down by his diagnosis, Arkady jumps at the chance to help “Bronson,” a Moscow thug who carries a lot of physical and political muscle. He has lost contact with his daughter Karina, who joined an opposition movement, and he wants Arkady to find her. Arkady asks one of his son’s friends to search the internet for any info on her. The kid calls him, leaving a cryptic message, and then turns up dead the next morning. All the clues lead to the Werewolves, a Putin-sanctioned motorcycle gang — but they’re untouchable.

Arkady then hooks up with the missing girl’s roommate Elena (in more ways than one). As they track Karina through Kiev in Ukraine, and then to Russian-held Crimea—this is just before the recent invasion—murders begin to accumulate. It’s in Crimea that a giant patriotic extravaganza gives Arkady an answer to the cryptic clue, a glimpse of the killer, and a passel of danger for him and Elena. They make a harrowing escape.

Arkady ends up back in Moscow, of course. The Parkinson’s does not make this book a final chapter. As he has from the beginning of this series, Smith makes the setting more than just scenery. He builds a context of corrupt society, riddled with the abuse of power and violence that obtains with that abuse. By the end of the book, it’s clear that this is not a fairy tale, and Arkady doesn’t live happily ever after. He’s just lucky to live.

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