Polar Star

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Once upon a time Arkady Renko was a senior investigator for the Moscow prosecutor’s office. He was a member of the Communist party and occupied a relatively privileged position within Soviet society. Unfortunately, Renko was compelled to enforce the law as written. In consequence, although he was successful in that endeavor, he was dismissed and incarcerated in a mental hospital. Renko is the most common of laborers on a factory ship operating in the Bering Sea.

One night, the net hoisted aboard the factory ship contains the body of a crew member in addition to a load of fish. Under normal circumstances, such an investigation might be perfunctory, but the POLAR STAR is not an ordinary factory ship: Rather, it is part of a joint venture between the United States and the Soviet Union, and a thorough investigation is required.

Renko is more than slightly reluctant to emerge from anonymity, but the captain of the POLAR STAR is determined that justice be served. Renko is well aware that such an investigation, in the absence of a technological infrastructure and conducted by a single individual with nebulous authority, offers little opportunity for success. Still, he is hardly in a position to refuse the captain’s request.

Renko soon discovers that no one and nothing is as it appears on the POLAR STAR. Moreover, he has more than a murderer to contend with, inasmuch as the crew contains a figure from his past who holds Renko directly responsible for the destruction of an earlier criminal enterprise. Even if Renko is able to unmask the killer, this old antagonist may yet exact his own brand of vengeance.

As with his other works, including the highly successful GORKY PARK, Martin Cruz Smith provides a carefully constructed tale in which as much attention is paid to the background as to the actions of the characters who move across his literary stage. Arkady Renko is well aware that “no good deed goes unpunished,” but he is compelled, despite the threat to his survival, to pursue the guilty regardless of the personal consequences.