Picks and Pans Review: Red Square
Late at night while the city of Moscow sleeps, the melancholic investigator Arkady Renko listens to the voice of his lost love, Irina Asanova, over the wavelengths of Radio Liberty. Last seen together at the end of Gorky, Park. Cruz Smith's first of these series-novels, the two lovers parted company in New York City, where Irina needed to remain in order to escape the reprisal of the KGB. Polar Star, Smith's second novel, charted Arkady's exile on a Siberian freighter; and now in Red Square, we find the detective back in Moscow trying to uncover the mob-style execution of a black marketeer that he has strong-armed into being an informer.
Cruz Smith vividly details the welter of a present-day Moscow agitated by various undercurrents of underworld activity; indeed the sheer evocation of his writing in the Moscow section can stand up against almost any other contemporary novel of literary fiction. A description of beets being sold to a queue of Soviet citizens becomes poetry in his hands. "In the reflection off the water running from the sacks of beets the entire park glowed in a spreading lens of red."
However, the novel becomes a bit less inspired when its action switches to Munich where, besides trying to reunite himself with Irina, Arkady manages to land in the middle of an art scam. Perhaps in his next installment, Cruz Smith will consider having his first-rate, beautifully realized main character spend a bit more time on his home turf. (Random House, $23)