My other library is a gym. Really. As a time poor retiree with the potential for developing tuckshop arms it is handy to be able to kill two birds with one stone. You know the old chestnuts – I don't know how I ever had time to go to work; strong women stay young. One whole wall of the Curves gym at Kenmore is covered with books. Paradise. Steve Biddulph's Raising Boys. Fifty Shades of Grey. The sublime to the gorblimey. My latest borrowing, Three Stations, by Martin Cruz Smith, took me into the seamy and corrupt side of present day Moscow.
The Russians have had very bad press through the news media, TV shows and crime novels. If it weren't for my late friend, Sigizmund Diczbalis, lover of the mother country, philanthropist, and autobiographer (The Russian Patriot), I'd think all Russians were bastards. From my own real life experience I won't forget the taxi driver/company owner in Buffalo who said the Russian Mafia were taking over the taxi business there, and he was awaiting an offer too good to refuse. I hope that doesn't include concrete boots. As for the friend who reported on Thai prostitutes from non-Russian brothel stables "necktied" and dumped at intersections…….
But I digress. Three Stations presents the post-dissolution Moscow as we are reliably convinced it has become. I had flashbacks to that upright Greek Detective, Costas Haritos of the Petros Markaris books, within the first few pages. Arkady Renko is fighting a rotten and corrupt system, Moscow's Prosecution Service. I've come into the scenario about six novels behind, with Gorky Park probably the best known through the film version. The seventh, Tatiana, has just been released.
The Lone Ranger has only Tonto as his sidekick. Renko is saddled with two - alcoholic Sergeant Victor Orlov, who has occasional flashes of brilliance, and Willi Pazenko, a forensic pathologist whose ill health has forced him to retire from active work in the mortuary. Willi also comes up with the goods when Arkady needs them most, having defied his superiors in carrying out an autopsy on the most recent victim of the serial killer..
Wikipedia tells me that twenty-five percent of the Russian population lives below the poverty line, so the living situations of many of the characters, particularly the children, are highly believable rather than improbable. Maya has been prostituted by her parents and has escaped her miserable life of servitude only to be hounded by The Collectors. This was one part of the plot line that I did find hard to believe, but maybe there are huge rewards for bringing her back into the child prostitution racket, despite the dangers involved. Or were Maya's bosses worried about their being revealed as pimps for underage prostitutes. With the amount of corruption amongst officials as well as the oligarchs, this would have been a plausible fear.
Children are currency. Their lives are cheap. The body count by the story's end has a huge proportion of young folk. They weave in and out of this story which has two major threads – a serial killer on the loose, and a young teenager looking for her kidnapped baby. Renko has no brief to pursue either of these cases, but old habits die hard, and he becomes involved, despite his dismissal from the police force by the machinations of the crooked police chief, Zurin.
Renko has a ward, a teenager called Zhenya, who has many of the hallmarks of an autistic savant. He makes a precarious living winning games of chess whilst holing up in an abandoned casino. Maya brings out a rare side of his character, that of a protector, despite her discomfort at his attentions.
Contemporary social commentary runs through the book. There are fears of Muslims overrunning the country, Putin is portrayed as a corrupt autocrat, and illegal immigrants are blamed for much of the rampant crime.
The story is fast paced as Renko attempts to prove that there actually is a serial killer whose signature is placing his victims in ballet poses; Maya comes up against hurdle after hurdle in the search for her baby daughter. After the story proceeded at breakneck speed for most of the novel, with various twists and turns, it suddenly seemed to run out of puff. It was as if the author had run out of things to say and was anxious to be done with his tale. I expected a better ending - the one promised right up until the last two chapters.