… is Martin Cruz Smith’s “Stalin’s Ghost.” The morose and laconic Arkady Renko returns for the sixth time since his debut in the brilliant “Gorky Park” of 1982.
This time he’s back in Moscow, which has changed a great deal in 25 years. It’s a city where the excesses of capitalism and corruption have engendered an odd nostalgia for the days of Stalinist Russia — even as mass graves yield reminders of what those days were really like.
The plot is labrynthine, involving bureacratic treachery and atrocities committed during both World War II and the Chechen war, but the real strength of “Stalin’s Ghost” is in the finely drawn characters, starting with Renko himself. The detective’s stoic sense of irony and humor in the face of brutality keeps you turning the pages to see how he’s going to survive. Along the way, you’ll learn quite a bit about the soul of contemporary Russia. For my money, this is the best of the series.