Thirty eight years after he first appeared in print in Gorky Park, Moscow detective Arkady Renko is still going strong in Martin Cruz Smith’s latest outing The Siberian Dilemma. Keeping up with Russian trends, this time, Renko is dealing with a pair of Russian oligarchs and the lucrative oil fields of Siberia. But before all of this, a bizarre, very Russian and ultimately important scene where Renko and his partner Victor face down a couple of rogue bears who have been released from their enclosure at the Moscow zoo.
Following this seeming non-sequitur cold open, Renko heads to the train station to meet his girlfriend and journalist Tatiana who is supposed to be returning from Siberia. When she does not arrive he does some digging and finds out she is staying there on assignment. It turns out that Tatiana as become close to the man she is investigating – Kuznetsov, an oligarch and politician who has spent time in jail for his opposition to Putin. When Renko is dispatched to Siberia by his boss Zurin to bring back a criminal, he takes the opportunity to check in on Tatiana.
In The Siberian Dilemma, Renko is back in all of his cynical, noir, fatalist glory. While he falls into the slightly rogue, world weary detective-with-a-heart-of-gold mould, he is a singular and unique character. While Renko’s core character has not changed too much over the years, his past, referenced occasionally through the book, informs everything he does. Although this is the 9th book in a long running series, Smith makes it easy to jump on board with only very glancing call back easter eggs to almost all of the previous books in the series for long time fans.
The Siberian Dilemma has everything readers might want out of a noir detective novel set in modern day Russia – oligarchs, corruption, commentary on Putin, freezing temperatures, shady characters, a cheerful factotum, a dodgy boss and, of course, plenty of vodka. For fans of this series in particular, but for crime lovers generally, this is another winner.