Red Square

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Martin Cruz Smith has created a remarkable character in his redoubtable Russian policeman Arkady Renko, the protagonist of GORKY PARK and POLAR STAR. The rejected son of a famous Russian military officer who became a brutal wartime hero of the Communist Party, Renko is a brilliant investigator with a skeptical and independent point of view. Having earlier sacrificed himself for his dissident lover, Irina Asanova, suffering imprisonment and exile for helping her escape, he returns to Moscow on the brink of political and social dissolution. The country is run by corrupt officials and black marketeers; organized crime has replaced the Party as the controlling force in Russian society.

Smith brings all of these elements together in this story which covers two weeks in August, 1991, a time leading up to the attempted coup of August 21. The suicide of Renko’s father coincides with the murder of an underworld banker who has secretly cooperated with Renko in his investigation of the black market underground. The murder trail leads both to the Russian mafia and to criminal connections in Munich, where Renko again meets Irina, now working as an announcer for Radio Liberty. Renko finds that his perceived duty to his homeland conflicts with his personal desires, that by solving the case (which has now cost the life of a fellow investigator) he may again lose Irina.

Although the plot of this detective novel is carefully and complexly constructed, Smith’s primary interest is in the character development of his subtle protagonist. Renko is a tormented hero, a man of conscience. But he also is a man of action. The violent conclusion is rather jarring and not entirely convincing. Nevertheless, Smith’s portrayal of Renko’s navigation through a collapsing world is compelling and often masterful.

Red Square Literary Techniques

Unlike Stallion Gate (1986), Red Square seems content to be a very well-made example of the detective-spy hybrid genre. There...

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Red Square Ideas for Group Discussions

As the third installment in Smith's series of Arkady Renko novels, Red Square must be judged as part of a larger project as well as...

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Red Square Social Concerns

The action of Red Square is precisely dated; it begins on 6 August 1991 and ends on 21 August 1991. It is no coincidence that 18-21...

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Red Square Literary Precedents

The literary precedents of Red Square naturally include those listed for Gorky Park (see separate entry): the police procedurals of...

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Red Square Related Titles

Gorky Park and Polar Star prepare for Red Square. In Gorky Park, Smith achieved the remarkable feat of making an...

(The entire section is 260 words.)