“Three Stations”: Investigating the dark underbelly of modern Russia

In a gritty new book, the author of "Gorky Park" brings back the Moscow detective who made him famous

Topics: Fiction, Books,

"Three Stations": Investigating the dark underbelly of modern Russia"Three Stations" by Martin Cruz Smith

Almost 30 years ago, in his novel “Gorky Park,” Martin Cruz Smith introduced us to Arkady Renko, the Moscow homicide investigator who arrived on the page almost fully alienated — from his past, from his profession and from the Soviet system. In “Polar Star,” the man apart became the man adrift, working on the “slime line” of a Russian factory ship. Each Renko novel seemed to propel its hero further to the margins; the newest, “Three Stations,” finds the investigator shocked by his own irrelevance and advancing age. “Who was this graying stranger,” Renko wonders, “who rose from his bed, usurped his clothes and occupied his chair at the prosecutor’s office?”

Barnes & Noble ReviewEven a dwindling Renko is, of course, a brilliant cop. But in this slim, almost ephemeral novel that fitfully illuminates the new Russia of oligarchs, drugs, sex slavery, decadence and degradation, he is also conscience and memory. It’s a memory increasingly at odds with his native city. “This wasn’t Arkady’s Moscow anymore,” we learn as Renko navigates an old bohemian neighborhood now frequented by “leggy women with Prada bags who circulated from Pilates class to tapas bar, from tapas bar to sushi, from raw fish to meditation.”

Those are, of course, the lucky women. In “Three Stations” we get to know the unlucky ones: Maya, sold into child prostitution, and Vera, found murdered in a filthy trailer. Vera’s murder forms the core of the plot as Renko, disobeying orders and facing dismissal, stubbornly follows a trail that leads him to the truth — if not to justice. “You have no authority and no protection,” Arkady’s drunken colleague, Victor, tells him, “What are you looking for? Blood on the sidewalk and a round of applause?”



It is Maya, however, who constitutes the novel’s heart. We meet her on the first page, on a train, a traditionally fraught venue for any Russian heroine. She has a baby and she is on the run. “Maya had been the youngest prostitute at the club … off the menu, for trusted members only,” her only retreat the abandoned bus shelter across the road on whose defaced walls “… Maya could still make out the faint outline of a rocket ship lifting off the ground, aspiring to more.”

Robbed on the train, a distraught Maya arrives in Moscow where she meets Zhenya, the vagrant teenager who is the closest thing that Renko has to an adopted son. Like countless other, more feral, youths, Zhenya is a denizen of Three Stations, the city terminus where railway lines and chaotic traffic, both motorized and human, converge. Here the novel chiefly dwells, among the lost children of Russia. One runaway, for example, recalls a childhood home that was “like a listing ship, filthy clothes and empty bottles rolled to one side, bills underfoot.”

As Cruz Smith draws his parallel plotlines together neatly if a little hastily, he creates bold sketches of a previously grey world thrown into sudden, garish disorder. “We were the idiots who put this lizard in power,” a billionaire oligarch complains of Vladimir Putin, who is seen as betraying his paymasters. In a Russia that now spawns killers with “eyes deep as drains,” even political corruption is not what it used to be.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>