This is one of the modern classics. It was published in 1981 and set in the late 70’s when Brezhnev was First Secretary and the cold war was still on. But with Stalin long dead and Khrushchev in his grave, Brezhnev seemed more like a strange uncle you never wanted to visit.
As a historian, I took a special interest in the Soviet Union, as much as anything else. I wasn’t much of a specialist. Still, I’ve read enough and was even able to visit the USSR once, so I have some background against which to judge such a book.
Spy novels were still popular and Smith played on that with this book. However, Arkady Renko, the hero, is a cop. He is called to investigate the deaths of three people in the most popular public park in Moscow. Their frozen bodies have no identifying features, including fingers and faces.
One of the dead is eventually identified as an American which means the case should be taken over by the KGB, but Arkady is ordered to carry on. As more and more details lead to an American involvement, Arkady struggles to understand why he still has the case. He works, expecting at any time to be arrested himself. When his partner and lead witness are killed, he knows he is up the proverbial creek.
What begins as a police procedural quickly moves into international suspense with Arkady stuck in the middle. I had the solution to the mystery figured out—-several times. I got it right a few pages before the end.
This is a great read by a most gifted writer. The detail of the old Soviet Union passes the smell test. I know Smith spent time there researching the book, but still, so much detail; how did he do it?
This is the first of an 8 book series featuring Arkady Renko. Hollywood made a movie of the first book in 1983. Rotten Tomatoes gives it 78%. I have not seen it.
I did read December 6 by Smith a year or so ago, but did not report on it. A more recent book and very different in tone but just as suspenseful, fact-filled, and delightful to read.
I have to give this book 4.8 stars. If you want to get a sense of the Soviet days, this is a great way to start.