Investigator Arkady Renko, the pariah of the Moscow prosecutor's office, has been assigned the thankless job of investigating a new phenomenon: late-night subway riders report seeing the ghost of Joseph Stalin on the platform of the Chistye Prudy Metro station.
The illusion seems part political hocus-pocus and also part wishful thinking, for among many Russians, Stalin is again popular; the bloody dictator can boast a two-to-one approval rating. Decidedly better than that of Renko, whose lover, Eva, has left him for Detective Nikolai Isakov, a charismatic veteran of the civil war in Chechnya, a hero of the far right and, Renko suspects, a killer for hire. The cases entwine, and Renko's quests become a personal inquiry fueled by jealousy.
The investigation leads to the fields of Tver, outside of Moscow, where once a million soldiers fought. There, amidst the detritus, Renko must confront the ghost of his own father, a favorite general of Stalin's. In these barren fields, patriots and shady entrepreneurs - the Red Diggers and Black Diggers - collect the bones, weapons, and personal effects of slain World War II soldiers, and find that even among the dead there are surprises.
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As a longtime Arcady Renko fan, I was expecting to like this book, but just how great it was took me by surprise. All the books have been great, starting way back with Gorky Park, but this was perhaps the richest, most intricate, most haunting and most soul-satisfying of all of them.
Renko's economy of words and understatement of even his thoughts brings us readers into the irony of his world and the perversity of the situations in which he seems to find himself.
The reader is wonderful, creating the characters, especially the old men, of the novel. But he is at his best expressing Arkady's thoughts and his spare, restrained manner of conversation. This book has a perfect match of narrator and character.
In all the Renko novels there is a wealth of detail, coupled with the bringing together of these details to complete the picture as the story comes to a conclusion. Stalin's Ghost is no exception. Even the details of dreams and hallucinations are woven into the plot. The end of the book was like seeing the seemingly disparate pieces of an abstract puzzle satisfyingly assemble into a clear picture.
The story is haunting, gritty, ugly, beautiful, and utterly engrossing! It is not just a good story, but good writing at its best. The best thing I have put into my ears for quite a while.....