05 October 2008

Who Dunnit Part 2

Regarding my post on 1 July 2008, Stalin’s Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith finally came my way. Senior Investigator Arkady Renko is weaving his determined way through Moscow’s strange under classes. The case he is given to solve exposes deeper and more sinister roots. Even his police colleagues, veterans of the Chechen war, are suspect. The “ghost” is a not-so-subtle allegory for the nostalgia of some Russians for the days of Uncle Joe. Renko has his own family ghosts in that same past. His private life is also suffering problems we don’t want him to have.

Falling out of favour–again–with his corrupt superiors, Renko wastes no time following threads of his mystery to the city of Tver. Here, the Diggers were an eye-opener for me. The slow, painstaking exhumation of Second World War soldiers on a huge battlefield site is undertaken by both the altruistic and the greedy. Red Diggers are the volunteers who restore bones for dignified burial and make identification if possible. The Black Diggers profit from selling recovered artifacts and weapons. [Stalin’s Ghost does not mention that Moscow entrepreneurs on the Internet advertise tours to the macabre site for “collectors” and “privet (sic) relic hunting excursions.”]

The book and the hero seemed to have a slightly more than usual jaundiced view of Russian subcurrents, in my opinion. Nonetheless, the plot has increasingly complicated layers and we cheer Renko’s survival ... to appear another time, one hopes, uncontaminated by his surroundings.

Sad Postscript:
A reader informs me that Donald James Wheal died in April of this year. The author of Monstrum, The Fortune Teller and Vadim is no more. I feel stricken with loss. So long, Constantin, fare thee well.

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