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2018 Book #18 - Polar Star by Martin Cruz Smith

I recently had lunch with my uncle's sister, who was a detective for many years. She is also a book lover with whom I share affection for many authors. I asked her what detective fiction she likes and she gave me a list and a bag of books. Can't think of a better person to get a recommendation on detective fiction from than an actual detective.



This book is one of her favorites and I now officially trust her judgement. It's phenomenal. It has all the usual elements of a detective story, but it's set inside a Soviet fishing trawler. Personally, I can't get enough of all that Soviet gloom, intrigue, dread, wit, shadow boxing, uncertainty, and working the angles in secret.

This is a sequel to the classic Gorky Park. The detective, Arkady Renko, has been kicked out of the party and relegated to the slime line, gutting fish in the freezing hold of a "factory ship." (The ship itself is a character in the story.) When a young woman who worked in the mess turns up dead in a fishing net, he really doesn't want to get involved, but is pressured into it. He keeps trying to get out of the assignment, but the brambles are too thick and he is ensnared.

The plotting is unbelievably dense and I sometimes had a hard time figuring out what angle Renko was working, but that's part of the charm. It's like a chessboard where you can't see all the pieces. You're not even sure how many squares there are on the board. Communist Party politics are torqued tight because it's a joint venture with the USA and there are Americans on board.

He's an exceptionally fine writer; I put him in the same class as John le Carre, which is to say none better. If you liked Gorky Park, you absolutely must read this. If you're fascinated by the Soviets and/or life at sea, you'll love it.

Score one for my uncle's sister the detective.
Tags: 2018 book reviews
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