(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Gorky Park is set in the Moscow of the 1970’s, during the Leonid Brezhnev era, when the Soviet Union was still intact and viewed as a major threat to the United States. The main character, Arkady Renko, is a superb homicide investigator who is confronted with a baffling case: the murder of three people in Gorky Park—an unlikely setting for such a crime because it is so public and would seem to invite immediate detection. Yet the bodies are frozen, and even more strangely, their fingertips have been removed to destroy their fingerprints and their faces have been skinned, making physical identification extremely difficult. For Arkady, most cases are simple ones: one Russian kills another in a fit of passion or in a drunken spree. Truly interesting and intricate cases—usually involving politics and affairs of state—are the province of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti (KGB), the Soviet Union’s secret police.

Even before Arkady can investigate the scene of the crime thoroughly, he is interrupted by Major Pribluda, a KGB agent who handles the bodies roughly, thus destroying (Arkady fears) vital evidence. Yet Arkady’s feelings are mixed. Although he wants to do a careful investigation, he dislikes mixing in politics and would just as soon turn over the case to the oafish Pribluda if he is going to interfere with it.

Naturally, Arkady is curious about this bizarre crime and continues to investigate when he meets with no opposition from Pribluda. He is encouraged by his superior, the town prosecutor Andrei Iamskoy, who has enormous respect for...

(The entire section is 650 words.)