Review: THREE STATIONS by Martin Cruz Smith, published by Simon & Schuster

I have always had a soft spot for Martin Cruz Smith’s book, ever since I first read GORKY PARK, the book that introduced Arkady Renko, the disillusioned cop of Moscow’s police force. 

There are several books in the series, and I find each of them utterly captivating. Yes, they are page-turners, and they have great concepts flowing through their pages, but they have more than that. There is a great humanity that flows through all the stories. A deep understanding of people and what motivates them. 

I loved this book. Perhaps because I was reading it in Auckland while in two week’s quarantine, waiting to see my brother, who was dying. I needed something that was uplifting, that was well-written, and most of all, diverting. THREE STATIONS was absolutely perfect. Which of course begs the question why it took so long to write up this review. I was in New Zealand seven months ago, after all. And the short answer is, the death of a brother is a traumatic event in anyone’s life. It’s taken me this long to get back to a mostly even keel. But the story still remains with me. It’s that kind of book.

This story starts with a kind of prequel, which involves young Maya and her daughter on a train. She is exhausted and scared. Only fifteen, and seven months free of drugs, she doesn’t know what to do when a soldier joins her and starts to make lewd comments, finally threatening to throw her baby from the train if she doesn’t let him rape her. Although she doesn’t know it, she has a friend – an old babushka enters the compartment and holds a knife to the soldier’s throat, threatening she’ll cut off his balls if she sees him again. She kicks him away, and he scuttles off like a scalded cat. The babushka means security. Maya feels safe with her. She can at last doze off and know that her baby is safe. She accepts some tea, settles and sleeps. 

And only later when she wakes in Moscow does she realise her baby is gone; the babushka has taken her child.

But this is less about Maya, and more about Arkady Renko and the police. He is one of those characters that has developed over the years, and he’s grown into a delightful guy I’d like to meet. He has a companion, Victor Orlov, who is alcoholic and hating himself for it, but still a good policeman. Arkady and Victor are called to a crime scene just as Victor has been rescued from a drunk tank. On their way back, on the way to work, Victor says, “Life would be wonderful without vodka. Vodka is in our DNA. That’s a fact. The thing is, Russians are perfectionists. That’s our curse. It makes for great chess players and ballerinas and turns the rest of us into jealous inebriates. The question is, not why don’t I drink less, it’s why don’t you drink more?” 

There is a woman found in a workers’ trailer, the sort of area where workers could sit in front of a fire, rest a while. Four bunk beds and a stove. She was sprawled on a dirty mattress, eighteen or nineteen, nude from the waist down. Her handbag was at her side, but there was no ID. The railway police captain, Kol, was dismissive: “A lot of fuss for a dead whore.”

It looks like a simple drugs overdose to everyone – but not Arkady. And soon he learns that the death of this girl is linked to Moscow’s rich and famous, and begins to learn of a kidnapping.

This is a great story, told by a master writer. It’s compelling, gripping and plotted superbly. 

I will always remember it because it made those weeks in Auckland just a little less painful. You should remember it because it’s a damn good story.

Highly recommended, of course.

One Response to “Review: THREE STATIONS by Martin Cruz Smith, published by Simon & Schuster”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:


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