(13. - 1085.) Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith (2010) - Arkady Renko has been neutered:
He was an investigator who investigated nothing. The prosecutor made sure Arkady followed orders by giving him none to defy. No investigations meant no runaway investigations. Arkady was ignored, welcome to spend his time reading novels or arranging flowers.
He is nominally assigned to the area including “Komsomal Square, the people of Moscow called Three Stations for the railway terminals gathered there. Plus the converging forces of two Metro lines and ten lanes of traffic”.
Zhenya, the teenage boy who calls Arkady his friend and occasionally stays in Arkady’s apartment, is at the Three Stations daily looking for chess games and studying a Russian-English dictionary in a reversal of Bobby Fischer who learned Russian to read chess analysis. Known as “Genius” Zhenya hustles and observes and lives in a shuttered casino.
Zhenya becomes Maya’s protector. The 15 year old Maya from some distant part of Russia east of Moscow, has had her 3 week old baby stolen just before the train arrived. Exhausted from the journey she had fallen asleep.
Desperate to find her baby she is adamant about not seeking police help after her initial report is dismissed as a lie.
Arkady blunders into the investigation of the death of a young teenage woman near the Three Stations. She was found in a trailer with a direct phone line to the nearest police station. If Arkady does not investigate no one will for it is convenient to believe she was a prostitute and it would be very inconvenient should she be tied to the police. Not wanting to have the unidentified teenager be an abstract he calls her Olga.
Arkady’s supervisor wants to fire him. Maya will do anything to find her baby. Zhenya is baffled that he is attracted to Maya.
Arkady is as stubborn and principled as ever. He is a curse to Russian bureaucracy with his determination to find real killers rather than easy scapegoats or better yet expedient denials of any crime.
While he has survived suspensions and dismissals and even an exile to a factory fishing ship in the Bering Sea he is getting older. “Bureaucracy” always wins as it never ages.
I was disappointed with Smith resorting to a gratuitous body count to end the book. He is a better writer than such a resolution.
Overall Three Stations is a complex mix of fascinating characters coping with the harsh realities of Putin’s Russia. His allies are gradually displacing and/or disposing of the original oligarchs of post-communist Russia. From the fetid streets of the Three Stations to the magnificent excesses of the Club Nijinsky Arkay relentlessly pursues a killer and a baby.