WOLVES EAT DOGS | Martin Cruz Smith

In the shadow of the devastated Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Pripyat, Ukraine, nature is reclaiming the wreckage of humankind's worst nuclear accident. Outlaws and corrupt militia co-exist in the toxic detritus that is left in the wake of the government-ordered evacuation years earlier. Scientists come to conduct pure research. Surviving residents with nowhere to go wait for the end that never comes. Weary, they attempt to live with the terrible knowledge of their doom. One telling detail of their reduced circumstances: they cannot have pet dogs because the wolves in the surrounding forests eat dogs. This is not a cliché. It is a living Darwinian metaphor. Arkady Renko, the iconic detective from GORKY PARK, is challenged by his most baffling and enigmatic case yet: the death of an oligarch, by suicide perhaps, but Renko is certain it is the result of a murderous plot.

Smith's prose is deceptively elegant. It seems straightforward like Renko's description of action, yet it is always painted in shades of light, color, and tone. This and Renko's cynical, quietly subversive, brilliantly analytical, melancholy character keeps the mind turning - amused and utterly engaged.

Amazon - Wolves Eat Dogs

Wikipedia - Wolves Eat Dogs


Thriller Writers Burn It Down

A visit to the mystery/suspense and thriller aisles at Borders this afternoon inspired six observations:

  1. Deceased authors are publishing new novels (i.e., Robert Ludlum, Margaret Truman)
  2. The Cold War is over, the War on Terror has evolved into traditional war, and espionage and conspiracy are bigger than ever
  3. Protagonists in thrillers are best when they are deeply, irredeemably flawed
  4. Women are gaining market share in the pantheon of mystery, suspense and thriller authors (i.e., Lisa Unger, Lisa Scottoline, Kathryn Fox)
  5. The Mystery/Suspense market is growing
  6. Successful writers in these genres 'burn down the house' and create palpable peril

In these categories, my reading has yet to venture far beyond Silva, Ludlum, Anthony Hyde, Clancy, Forsythe, and Cruz Smith, so forgive me if my categorization of those other above-mentioned writers contains errors.  In this, I suspect I am like many of my fellow shoppers in the aisles, scanning titles, cover art, jacket copy and blurbs - drawn to personal favorites, interested in broadening my horizons, yet conflicted about the burden on my budget and the quality of my reading, reticent about dropping $7-$12 on an unproven author.  LeCarré is a personal favorite.  He set the standard long ago in the spy novel genre and continues to craft writing that seems transparent, the writer's holy grail.

Larry went officially missing from the world on the second Monday of October, at ten minutes past eleven, when he failed to deliver his opening lecture of the new academic year.

- OUR GAME (1995)

There is an entire novel in that single opening line.

In mystery, Martin Cruz Smith raises my expectations, not only for quality writing, but also for my own work.

Blair lit an oil lamp hanging on the wall. Its wan illumination reached to the glory of the room, an oil painting of Christ in a carpenter's shop.  Jesus appeared delicate and unaccustomed to hard work, and in Blair's opinion His expression was overly abstracted for a man handling a saw.

- ROSE (1996)

But I digress.  If there is a single thread that unites the work of all of the above, it has to be the last observation.  These writers burn the character's house down, usually early in the book, and often more than once.