50 Books: Something Completely Different

From Margaret Wise Brown to a book that I can’t believe I didn’t read sooner:

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

Boy, did I have the wrong idea about this book.  Maybe because it was so popular when it came out, or (look, I’m shallow) maybe because the author’s name is so snazzy, I somehow assumed that it was a trashy beach book, or some kind of dated, two-bit thriller.  Boy, was I wrong.  This is the real deal — real literature, a genuinely great novel.  Almost Dostoevskian at times.

The characters are so real.  Their sorrows and loves are so real.  The places are so real.  My memories of passages I read are as strong as memories of places I’ve actually, physically visited.  The plot is insanely complicated, but it’s never outside the realm of what might, actually possibly happen to someone who is as unlucky, as talented, as driven, and as flawed, and as Russian as Moscow homicide investigator Arkady Renko.


  1. You simply must read the other books in the series! Gorky Park is just the start of a long and interesting journey for Arkady. They all follow chronologically (and historically), so it is best to read in order. The latest one came out in the last few years, I think.

    I lived in Moscow a year when I was in my early 20s, and loved it. I found it impossible to believe that Cruz Smith never went to Russia before writing his books! They have such a flavor of the place, and his geography is good in a complicated city.

  2. Sounds too intense for me. Old-fashioned me, still enjoys Agatha Christie. While wandering down the “mystery” aisle at our library, I noticed a familiar name – Ralph Mcinerny. Call me behind the times, but I did not know him as anyone but the brilliant philosopher at ND who had helped many of my friends on their way to PhD’s. I have read a few of his Fr. Dowling novels now and enjoy the characters immensely. Maybe I’ll pick up Gorky Park for my husband who likes Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn and funky Russian chant.

  3. You know I have not read any of Cruz-Smith’s books though I remember when Gorky Park came out. I was still a librarian then and thought I would get around to it at some point. It still remains on the “back burner”.

  4. The Ralph McInerny ones are definitely very mild, and the names in them are so silly (e.g. a single female protagonist in one named Amanda Pick). They are a safe choice to avoid the sick torture stuff that is in a lot of current fiction. And sometimes they are really funny.

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