A passenger train hurtling through the night. An unwed teenage mother headed to Moscow to seek a new life. A cruel-hearted soldier looking furtively, forcibly, for sex. An infant disappearing without a trace.
So begins Martin Cruz Smith’s masterful Three Stations, a suspenseful, intricately constructed novel featuring Investigator Arkady Renko.
For the last three decades, beginning with the trailblazing Gorky Park, Renko (and Smith) have captivated readers with detective tales set in Russia. Renko is the ironic, brilliantly observant cop who finds solutions to heinous crimes when other lawmen refuse to even acknowledge that crimes have occurred. He uses his biting humor and intuitive leaps to fight not only wrongdoers but the corrupt state apparatus as well.
In Three Stations, Renko’s skills are put to their most severe test. Though he has been technically suspended from the prosecutor’s office for once again turning up unpleasant truths, he strives to solve a last case: the death of an elegant young woman whose body is found in a construction trailer on the perimeter of Moscow’s main rail hub. It looks like a simple drug overdose to everyone—except to Renko, whose examination of the crime scene turns up some inexplicable clues, most notably an invitation to Russia’s premier charity ball, the billionaires’ Nijinksy Fair.
Thus a sordid death becomes interwoven with the lifestyles of Moscow’s rich and famous, many of whom are clinging to their cash in the face of Putin’s crackdown on the very oligarchs who placed him in power. Renko uncovers a web of death, money, madness. and a kidnapping that threatens the woman he is coming to love and the lives of children he is desperate to protect. In Three Stations, Smith produces a complex and haunting vision of an emergent Russia’s secret underclass of street urchins, greedy thugs, and a bureaucracy still paralyzed by power and fear.
A woman known only as Maya traveling with an infant on a long train ride to Moscow mysteriously loses her child. Another young woman who looks similar is soon found dead lying in a corridor inside Three Stations, a massive maze of underground alleyways, subways, and train platforms that serve as the transportation hub for Russia’s capital. Everyone on Moscow’s police force ignores the frantic mother and dismisses the dead woman as just another prostitute who probably committed suicide everyone except Detective Arkady Renko.
Narrator Ron McLarty, who has also performed several other Renko books, takes on Martin Cruz Smith’s latest murder mystery. The Cold War may be decades old, but the air of intrigue lives on in Three Stations, where you’re never quite sure who’s on what side or who to trust. McLarty perfectly captures Smith’s sense of intrigue. He has a deep, determined voice, one that lends an air of seriousness and drama to Renko’s investigation. This tone works since the detective seems to be the only one taking everything seriously. Everyone else seems all too eager to dismiss the murder investigation and get back to enjoying life in post-Communist Moscow, a strange, other-worldly place populated by billionaires, schemers, prostitutes, thugs, and artists. But Renko refuses to jump to conclusions based on circumstantial evidence. And McLarty makes you believe he is wise to trust his investigative instincts.
Three Stations reveals a whole different side of Moscow that’s not included in tourism brochures. These once regal Stalinist train stations now seem to serve mainly as magnets for the city’s homeless and prostitutes. But rather than simply portraying these people as one-dimensional stereotypes, Smith breathes life into each character and presents them as unique people worthy of our attention. Renko takes the same approach, never assuming anything about anyone without facts to back up his theories, which makes him a great detective, and what ultimately makes Three Stations such a thrilling mystery. Ken Ross
“[Smith] takes what in essence is a police procedural and elevates it to the level of absorbing fiction.” ( Los Angeles Times)
"A continuing adventure that in terms of popular fiction is surely a work of art.” (Washington Post)
"The sustained success of Smith’s Renko books is based on much more than Renko. This author’s gift for tart, succinct description creates a poisonous political backdrop, one that makes his characters’ survival skills as important as any of their other attributes. . . [This is] one top-flight series, still sharply honed, none the worse for wear.” (New York Times)
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