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Stalin's Ghost (Arkady Renko Series #6)

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Detective Arkady Renko returns to Moscow in the internationally bestselling series about Russian crimes, broken hearts, and the mysteries of the soul.

Investigator Arkady Renko, the pariah of the Moscow prosecutor's office, has been assigned the thankless job of investigating a new phenomenon: late-night subway riders report seeing the ghost of Joseph Stalin on the platform of the Chistye Prudy Metro station. The illusion seems part political hocus-pocus and also part wishful ...

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Stalin's Ghost (Arkady Renko Series #6)

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Detective Arkady Renko returns to Moscow in the internationally bestselling series about Russian crimes, broken hearts, and the mysteries of the soul.

Investigator Arkady Renko, the pariah of the Moscow prosecutor's office, has been assigned the thankless job of investigating a new phenomenon: late-night subway riders report seeing the ghost of Joseph Stalin on the platform of the Chistye Prudy Metro station. The illusion seems part political hocus-pocus and also part wishful thinking, for among many Russians Stalin is again popular; the bloody dictator can boast a two-to-one approval rating. Decidedly better than that of Renko, whose lover, Eva, has left him for Detective Nikolai Isakov, a charismatic veteran of the civil war in Chechnya, a hero of the far right and, Renko suspects, a killer for hire. The cases entwine, and Renko's quests become a personal inquiry fueled by jealousy.

The investigation leads to the fields of Tver outside of Moscow, where once a million soldiers fought. There, amidst the detritus, Renko must confront the ghost of his own father, a favorite general of Stalin's. In these barren fields, patriots and shady entrepreneurs — the Red Diggers and Black Diggers — collect the bones, weapons and personal effects of slain World War II soldiers, and find that even among the dead there are surprises.

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  • Martin Cruz Smith
    Martin Cruz Smith  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In post-Soviet Russia, Seven Year Plans have been replaced with side-street assassinations. Senior Investigator Arkady Renko notices a troubling pattern in several of these recent murders; many of the murder-for-hire victims served with two of his colleagues in Russia's elite Black Berets. One of those colleagues is now running for high public office. Adding a ghastly aura to these mysteries are reports that the ghost of Joseph Stalin has been seen lurking on Moscow subway platforms. Another sharp cloak-and-dagger outing for Martin Cruz Smith, the author of Wolves Eat Dogs and Gorky Park.
Patrick Anderson
Today's Russia, as Smith pictures it, is a madhouse -- poor Renko is the only sane man in sight. The Soviet Union, under communism, was awful but predictable. The new Russia confronts Renko with a bewildering mix of capitalism, corruption, mob violence, political consultants, policemen who are hired killers, feminism, Chechen terrorists and, most incredibly, nostalgia for Joe Stalin.
— The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
"The sustained success of Mr. Smith’s Renko books is based on much more than Renko. This author’s gift for tart, succinct description creates a poisonous political backdrop, one that makes his characters’ survival skills as important as any of their other attributes."
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Moscow-based Senior Investigator Arkady Renko, in his outstanding sixth outing (after Wolves Eat Dogs), investigates a murder-for-hire scheme that leads him to suspect two fellow police detectives, Nikolai Isakov and Marat Urman, both former members of Russia's elite Black Berets, who served in Chechnya. Isakov, a war hero, is now running for public office. Renko must also look into reports that the ghost of Stalin has begun appearing on subway platforms and why several bodies of Black Berets who served in Chechnya with Isakov have turned up in the morgue. Despite repeated threats to his life, Renko stubbornly perseveres, seeking justice in a land that has no official notion of that concept. Smith eschews vertiginous twists and surprises, concentrating instead on Renko as he slowly and patiently builds his case until the pieces fall together and he has again, if not exactly triumphed, at least survived. This masterful suspense novel casts a searing light on contemporary Russia. 250,000 first printing. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
Poor Arkady Renko. Now he's got to tussle with folks who would like to resurrect "Stalin's ghost." Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The excellent Russian detective Arkady Renko investigates supposed sightings of Josef Stalin in the Moscow subway, getting himself shot in the head in the process. Nostalgic, steel-toothed babushkas and heroes of the Great Patriotic War are of course among the wishful watchers and waiters Detective Renko spots hoping for a glimpse of the ghost of the Glorious Leader in the world's busiest subway, but so are an avant-garde filmmaker-turned-pornographer and a couple of American political consultants. Renko, whose relationship with enigmatic emergency physician Eva Kazka began in the ruins of radioactive Chernobyl in Smith's 2004 Wolves Eat Dogs, continues to find sex with the brilliant Ukranian stupendous, but they seem to be barely speaking out of bed. Part of the problem is Renko's obsessive detective work. He does not relent. Ever. But there is also the matter of Eva's continuing relationship with Nikolai Isakov, the commando she met years ago when she was patching up Chechnyans and Isakov was shooting them. Isakov is now a detective like Renko, but one with a political future and friends in high places. Isakov, whose political leanings are toward the old Soviet State, is also involved with the Stalin sightings and with the serial murders of a number of his old comrades from Chechnya. Complicating matters further for Detective Renko is the disappearance of Zhenya, the feral teenaged chess master he's been trying to civilize. The more Renko uncovers of Isakov's involvements, the more Renko's masters want him out of town. And it is outside Moscow, in the unreconstructed Soviet city of Tver, that everything comes to a boil as an unarmed, badly battered Renko takes on Isakov and hisremaining associates. Smith's lawless modern Russia continues to prove as terrifying as the Cold-War state. Possibly scarier.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743276733
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • Publication date: 6/3/2008
  • Series: Arkady Renko Series , #6
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 563,921
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin Cruz Smith’s novels include Tatiana, Stalin’s Ghost, Gorky Park, Rose, December 6, Polar Star, and Stallion Gate. A two-time winner of the Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers and a recipient of Britain’s Golden Dagger Award, he lives in California.


"You have to be an outsider to write," the novelist Martin Cruz Smith has said, and the protagonists of Smith's novels also tend to be outsiders, viewing their surroundings with the wariness and sharpened attention of the displaced. Smith spent his early writing years churning out potboilers, but with the 1977 publication of Nightwing, a bestseller about a plague of vampire bats that descends on a Hopi Indian reservation, Smith finally earned enough money to embark on the book he really wanted to write: a detective novel set in Moscow.

The book opens on a grisly scene: three corpses are found frozen in Gorky Park, their faces and fingerprints obliterated. Homicide investigator Arkady Renko is put on the case, but his superiors seem less than eager to uncover the truth. Dense, atmospheric and intricately plotted, Gorky Park drew comparisons to the spy novels of John le Carré. It was hugely successful, and was made into a movie starring William Hurt in 1983. Smith wrote a historical novel about the first atom bomb, Stallion Gate, before returning to Renko’s checkered career as a detective in Polar Star and Red Square. Though he bears some resemblance to the disaffected detective of noir tradition, the cynical, depressive Renko also exemplifies the Soviet dissident -- an outsider in his own country.

Renko has been immensely popular with readers, some of whom were disappointed when Smith's 1996 novel Rose featured a new protagonist. But most Renko fans were won over by boozy, broke mining engineer Jonathan Blair, who arrives in an English coal-mining town on a mission to clear up the mysterious disappearance of the local curate. Time magazine called Rose "the most interesting and richly textured crime story of the season."

One thing that sets Smith's work apart from other thrillers is the breadth and depth of his research. Before writing Gorky Park, the author visited Moscow, befriended exiled Russians and read scores of Russian newspapers and magazines in translation. For Rose, he spent weeks in Lancashire talking with miners and visiting mines. Smith's recent works Havana Bay, in which Renko goes to Cuba, and December 6, set in Tokyo just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, are equally fortified with research.

Though he's best known for Gorky Park, now considered a classic in the spy thriller genre, Smith is clearly a writer with more than one trick up his sleeve. "I never thought I would just be doing Arkady books," he once told a Salon interviewer. "I never intended to do any after Gorky Park, so I was pretty amazed when people asked me a few years ago what I was going to do now that the Cold War was over, as if I had been manufacturing missiles. I hate to be categorized. The great thing about being a writer is that you are always recreating yourself."

Good To Know

Martin Cruz Smith was born Martin William Smith, but changed his middle name to his grandmother's surname, Cruz. Smith is the son of a white jazz musician and a Pueblo Indian jazz singer.

George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier was one inspiration for Smith's novel Rose, set in the English coal-mining town of Wigan; another was a magazine article about the "pit girls" who flouted Victorian convention by wearing pants for their dangerous jobs above the mines.

Havana Bay, which reached No. 17 on the bestseller list, apparently didn't sell quite well enough to keep both author and publishers happy; a Random House publicity director told Salon that "[Havana Bay] didn't do as well as we'd hoped." After it came out, Smith left Random House for Simon & Schuster, which was looking to add more authors who could draw a male audience.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Martin William Smith (birth name); Simon Quinn; Jake Logan
    2. Hometown:
      San Rafael, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 3, 1942
    2. Place of Birth:
      Reading, Pennsylvania
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1964
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It was two in the morning, an hour that was both early and late. Two A.M. was a world to itself.

Zoya Filotova wore her black hair severely trimmed as if to defiantly display the bruise below her eye. She was about forty, Arkady thought, stylishly sinewy in a red leather pantsuit and a golden cross that was purely ornamental. She sat on one side of the booth, Arkady and Victor on the other, and although Zoya had ordered a brandy she had yet to touch it. She had long red fingernails and as she turned a cigarette pack over and over Arkady was put in mind of a crab inspecting dinner. The café was a chrome affair above a car wash on the beltway. No car washes tonight, not with snow falling, and the few cars that made it to the café were SUVs with four-wheel drive. The exceptions were Arkady's Zhiguli and Victor's Lada crouching in a corner of the lot.

Victor sipped a Chivas, just maintaining. Drinks were expensive and Victor had the patience of a camel. Arkady had a modest glass of water; he was a pale man with dark hair and the stillness of a professional observer. Thirty-six hours without sleep had made him more still than usual.

Zoya said, "My heart hurts more than my face."

"A broken heart?" Victor suggested as if it were his specialty.

"My face is ruined."

"No, you're still a beautiful woman. Show my friend what else your husband did."

The drivers and bodyguards who occupied stools along the bar were contemplative, cradling their drinks, sucking their cigarettes, keeping their balance. A couple of bosses compared Florida tans and snapshots of Sleeping Beauty. Zoya brushed the crucifix out of the way so she could unzip the top of her pantsuit and show Arkady a bruise that ran like a grape stain on the smooth plane of her breast.

"Your husband did this?" Arkady asked.

She zipped up and nodded.

"You'll be safe soon," Victor reassured her. "Animals like that should not be walking the street."

"Before we married he was wonderful. I have to say even now that Alexander was a wonderful lover."

"That's natural," Victor said. "You try to remember the good times. How long have you been married?"

"Three months."

Would the snow ever end? Arkady wondered. A Pathfinder rolled up to a gas pump. The mafia was getting conservative; now that they had seized and established their separate territories they were defenders of the status quo. Their children would be bankers and their children would be poets, something like that. Count on it, in fifty years, a golden age of poetry.

Arkady rejoined the conversation. "Are you sure you want to do this? People change their minds."

"Not me."

"Maybe your husband will change his ways."

"Not him." She smiled with an extra twist. "He's a brute. Now I don't dare go to my own apartment, it's too dangerous."

"You've come to the right place," Victor said and solemnized the moment with a sip. Cars droned by, each at a different pitch.

Arkady said, "We'll need phone numbers, addresses, keys. His routine, habits, where he hangs out. I understand you and your husband have a business near the Arbat."

"On the Arbat. Actually, it's my business."

"What sort?"

"Matchmaking. International matchmaking."

"What is the company's name?"


"Really?" That was interesting, Arkady thought. A quarrel in Cupid's bower? "How long have you had this business?"

"Ten years." Her tongue rested for a moment on her teeth as if she were going to say more and changed her mind.

"You and your husband both work there?"

"All he does is stand around and smoke cigarettes and drink with his mates. I do the work, he takes the money and when I try to stop him, he hits me. I warned him, this was the last time."

Victor said, "So now you want him..."

"Dead and buried."

"Dead and buried?" Victor grinned. He liked a woman with zeal.

"And never found."

Arkady said, "What I need to know is how you knew to go to the police to have your husband killed."

"Isn't that how it's done?"

Arkady ceded her the point. "But who told you? Who gave you the phone number? It makes us nervous when an innocent citizen, such as yourself, knows how to reach us. Did you get our number from a friend or did a skywriter spell out Killers for Hire?"

Zoya shrugged. "A man left a message on my phone and said if I had a problem to call this number. I called and your friend answered."

"Did you recognize the voice on the message?"

"No. I think it was a kind soul who took pity on me."

"How did that kind soul get your phone number?" Victor asked.

"We advertise. We give our number."

"Did you save the message?"

"No, why would I want anything like that on my machine? Anyway, what does it matter? I can give you each two hundred dollars."

"How do we know this isn't a trap?" Arkady asked. "This phone thing bothers me. This could be a case of entrapment."

Zoya had a throaty, smoker's laugh. "How do I know you won't simply keep the money? Or worse, tell my husband?"

Victor said, "Any enterprise demands a certain amount of trust on both sides. To begin with, the price is five thousand dollars, half before and half after."

"I can get someone on the street to do it for fifty."

"You get what you pay for," Victor said. "With us, your husband's total disappearance is guaranteed and we'll handle the investigation ourselves."

"It's up to you," Arkady emphasized. "Your decision."

"How will you do it?"

Victor said, "The less you know about that the better."

Arkady felt he had a front row seat to the snow, to the way it tumbled in foamy waves over parked cars. If Zoya Filotova could afford an SUV, she could pay five thousand dollars to eliminate her husband.

"He's very strong," she said.

"No, he'll just be heavy," Victor assured her.

Zoya counted out a stack of much-handled American bills, to which she added a photograph of a man in a bathrobe at the beach. Alexander Filotov was alarmingly large, with long, wet hair and he was showing the camera a beer can he had apparently crushed with one hand.

"How will I know he's dead?" Zoya asked.

Victor said, "We'll give you proof. We take a picture."

"I've read about this. Sometimes so-called killers use makeup and catsup and pretend the 'victim' is dead. I want something more solid."

There was a pause.

"More solid?" asked Victor.

"Something personal," Zoya said.

Arkady and Victor looked at each other. This was not in the script.

"A wristwatch?" Arkady suggested.

"More personal."

"As in...?" He didn't like where this was going.

Zoya finally picked up her brandy and sipped. "Don't kidnappers sometimes send a finger or an ear?"

There was another silence in the booth until Arkady said, "That's for kidnapping."

"That wouldn't work anyway," she agreed. "I might not recognize his ear or his finger. They all look pretty much alike. No, something more particular."

"What did you have in mind?"

She swirled her glass. "He has a pretty large nose."

Victor said, "I am not cutting off anybody's nose."

"If he's already dead? It would be like carving a chicken."

"It doesn't matter."

"Then I have another idea."

Victor put up his hand. "No."

"Wait." Zoya unfolded a piece of paper with a photograph of a drawing of a tiger fighting off a pack of wolves. The photo was murky, taken in poor light, and the drawing itself had an indistinct quality. "I thought of this."

"He has a picture?"

"He has a tattoo," Arkady said.

"That's right." Zoya Filotova was pleased. "I photographed the tattoo a few nights ago while he was in a drunken stupor. It's his own design."

A sheet covered one corner of the tattoo but what Arkady could see was impressive enough. The tiger stood majestically on its hind legs, one paw swiping the air as the wolves snarled and cringed. A pine forest and mountain stream framed the battle. On the white arm of a birch were the letters T, V, E, R.

Victor asked, "What does that mean?"

"He's from Tver," Zoya said.

"There are no tigers in Tver," Victor said. "No mountains either. It's a flat, hopeless dump on the Volga."

Arkady thought that was a little harsh, but people who made it to Moscow from places like Tver usually shed their hometown identity as fast as they could. They didn't have it inked on them forever.

"Okay," Victor said. "Now we can definitively ID him. How do you propose we bring the proof to you? Do you expect us to lug a body around?"

Zoya finished her brandy and said, "I need only the tattoo."

Arkady hated Victor's Lada. The windows did not completely close and the rear bumper was roped on. Snow blew in through floorboard holes and swayed the pine scent freshener that hung from the rearview mirror.

"Cold," Victor said.

"You could have let the car warm up." Arkady unbuttoned his shirt.

"It will, eventually. No, I'm talking about her. I felt my testicles turn to icicles and drop, one by one."

"She wants proof, the same as us." Arkady peeled adhesive tape from his stomach to free a microphone and miniature recorder. He pushed Rewind and Play, listened to a sample, turned off the recorder, ejected the cassette, and placed it in an envelope, on which he wrote, "Subject Z. K. Filotova, Senior Investigator A. K. Renko, Detective V. D. Orlov," date and place.

Victor asked, "What do we have?"

"Not much. You answered the phone on another officer's desk and a woman asked about doing in her husband. She assumed you were Detective Urman. You played along and set up a meeting. You could arrest her now for conspiracy but you'd have nothing on the detective and no idea who gave her his phone number. She's holding out. You could squeeze her harder if she pays for what she thinks is a finished assassination, then you'd have her for attempted murder and she might be willing to talk. Tell me about Detective Urman. It was his phone you answered?"

"Yes. Marat Urman. Thirty-five years old, single. He was in Chechnya with his buddy Isakov. Nikolai Isakov, the war hero."

"Detective Isakov?" Arkady said.

Victor waited a beat. "I thought you'd like that. The file's in back."

Arkady covered his confusion by fishing a ribbon-bound folder out of the dirty clothes and empty bottles on the back seat.

"Is this a car or a laundry chute?"

"You should read the newspaper articles. Urman and Isakov were with the Black Berets, and they killed a lot of Chechens. We fucked up in the first Chechen war. The second time we sent in people with, as they say, the proper skills. Read the articles."

"Would Isakov know what Urman was doing?"

"I don't know." Victor screwed up his face with thought. "The Black Berets make their own rules." He kept his eyes on Arkady while he lit a cigarette. "Have you ever met Isakov?"

"Not face to face."

"Just wondering." Victor snuffed the match between two fingers.

"Why did you pick up Urman's phone?"

"I was waiting for a snitch to call. He'd called Urman's number by mistake before; it's one digit off. These guys on the street, in the wintertime they drink antifreeze. You've got to catch them while they're able to talk. Anyway, it might be a good mistake, don't you think?"

Arkady watched a group leave the café and head for an SUV. They were heavyset, silent men until one of them built up speed and slid on the ice that covered the parking lot. He spread his arms and moved as if his shoes were skates. A second man chased him and then all the rest joined in, clowning on one leg, executing spins. The lot rang with their laughs, for their own impromptu performance, until one went down. Silent again, the others shuffled around, helped him to the car and drove off.

Victor said, "I'm no prude."

"I never took you for one."

"We're underpaid and no one knows better than me what a person has to do to live. There's a break-in and the detective steals what the robber missed. A traffic cop milks drivers for bribes. Murder, though, that's over the line." Victor paused to reflect. "Shostakovich was like us."

"In what conceivable way?"

"Shostakovich, when he was young and hard up for money, played the piano for silent movies. That's you and me. Two great mentalities wasted on shit. I've wasted my life. No wife, no kids, no money. Nothing but a liver you could wring the vodka from. It's depressing. I envy you. You have something to fight for, a family."

Arkady took a deep breath. "Of sorts."

"Do you think we should warn the husband, the guy with the tattoo?"

"Not yet. Unless he's a good actor, he'd tip her off." Arkady got out of the car and immediately began stamping his feet to stay warm. Through the open door he asked, "Have you let anyone else in on this? The station commander? Internal Affairs?"

"And paint a target on my head? Just you."

"So now we're both targets."

Victor shrugged. "Misery likes company."

Arkady's headlights concentrated on a hypnotic reel of tire tracks in the snow. He was so exhausted he was merely coasting. He didn't mind; he could have circled Moscow forever, like a cosmonaut.

He thought of the conversations men in space had with their loved ones at home and called the apartment on his cell phone.

"Zhenya? Zhenya, are you there? If you are, pick up."

Which was useless. Zhenya was twelve years old but had the skills of a veteran runaway and could be gone for days. There were no messages either, except something angry and garbled from the prosecutor.

Instead, Arkady called Eva at the clinic.


"Zhenya is still not back. At least he didn't answer the phone or leave a message."

"Some people hate the phone," she said. She sounded equally exhausted, four hours left on a sixteen-hour shift. "Working in an emergency clinic has made me a firm believer that no news is good news."

"It's been four days. He left with his chess set. I thought he was going to a match. This is the longest he's been gone."

"That's right and every minute has infinite possibilities. You can't control them all, Arkasha. Zhenya likes to take chances. He likes to hang out with homeless boys at Three Stations. You are not responsible. Sometimes I think your urge to do good is a form of narcissism."

"A strange accusation coming from a doctor."

He pictured her in her lab coat sitting in the dark of a clinic office, feet resting on a coffee table, watching the snow. At the apartment she could sit for hours, a sphinx with cigarettes. Or wander out with a small tape recorder and a pocketful of cassettes and interview invisible people, as she called them, people who only came out at night. She didn't watch television.

"Zurin called," she said. "He wants you to call him. Don't do it."

"Why not?"

"Because he hates you. He would only call you if he could do you harm."

"Zurin is the prosecutor. I am his investigator. I can't totally ignore him."

"Yes, you can."

This was an argument they had had before. Arkady knew his lines by heart, and to repeat them by phone struck him as unnecessary misery. Besides, she was right. He could quit the prosecutor's office and join a private security firm. Or — he had a law degree from Moscow University, after all — become a lawyer with a leather briefcase and business card. Or wear a paper hat and serve hamburgers at McDonald's. There weren't a great many other careers open to a senior investigator, although they were all better than being a dead investigator, Arkady supposed. He didn't believe Zurin would stab him in the back, although the prosecutor might show someone else where the knife drawer was. Anyway, the conversation had not gone as planned.

Arkady heard a rustle, as if she were rising from a chair. He said, "Maybe he's stuck somewhere until the Metro starts running. I'll try the chess club and Three Stations."

"Maybe I'm stuck somewhere. Arkady, why did I come to Moscow?"

"Because I asked you to."

"Oh. I'm losing my memory. Snow has wiped out so much. It's like amnesia. Maybe Moscow will be buried completely."

"Like Atlantis?"

"Exactly like Atlantis. And people will not be able to believe that such a place ever existed."

There was a long pause. The phone crackled.

Arkady said, "Was Zhenya with homeless boys? Did he sound excited? Scared?"

"Arkady, maybe you haven't noticed. We're all scared."

"Of what?"

This might be a good time to bring up Isakov, he thought. With the distance of a telephone cord. He didn't want to sound like an accuser, he just needed to know. He didn't even need to know, as long as it was over.

There was a silence. No, not silence. She had hung up.

As the M-1 became Lenin Prospect it entered a realm of empty, half-lit shopping malls, auto showrooms and the sulfurous blaze of all-night casinos: Sportsman's Paradise, Golden Khan, Sinbad's. Arkady played with the name Cupid, which on the lips of Zoya had sounded more hard-core than cherubic. All the time he looked right and left, slowing to scan each shadowy figure walking by the road.

The cell phone rang, but it wasn't Eva. It was Zurin.

"Renko, where the devil have you been?"

"Out for a drive."

"What sort of idiot goes out on a night like this?"

"It appears we are both out, Leonid Petrovich."

"Didn't you get my message?"

"Say that again."

"Did you get...Never mind. Where are you now?"

"Going home. I'm not on duty."

Zurin said, "An investigator is always on duty. Where are you?"

"On the M-1." Actually, at this point, Arkady was well into town.

"I'm at the Chistye Prudy Metro station. Get here as fast as you can."

"Stalin again?"

"Just get here."

Even if Arkady had wanted to race to Zurin's side his way was slowed when traffic was narrowed to a single lane in front of the Supreme Court. Trucks and portable generators were drawn up in disorder on the curb and street. Four white tents glowed on the sidewalk. Round-the-clock construction was not unusual in the ambitious new Moscow; however, this project looked especially haphazard. Traffic police vigorously waved cars through, but Arkady tucked his car between trucks. A uniformed militia colonel seemed belligerently in charge. He dispatched an officer to chase Arkady, but the man proved to be a veteran sergeant named Gleb whom Arkady knew.

"What's going on?"

"We're not to tell."

"That sounds interesting," Arkady said. He liked Gleb because the sergeant could whistle like a nightingale and had the gap teeth of an honest man.

"Well, seeing as how you're an investigator..."

"Seeing that...," Arkady agreed.

"Okay." Gleb dropped his voice. "They were doing renovations to extend the basement cafeteria. A bunch of Turkish workers were digging. They got a little surprise."

Excavation work had torn up part of the sidewalk. Arkady joined the onlookers on the precarious edge, where klieg lamps aimed an incandescent light at a power shovel in a hole two stories deep and about twenty meters square. Besides militia, the crowd on the sidewalk included firemen and police, city officials and agents of state security who looked rousted from their beds.

In the hole an organized crew of men in coveralls and hard hats worked on the ground and up on scaffolding with picks and trowels, plastic bags, surgical masks and latex gloves. One man dislodged what looked like a brown ball, which he placed in a canvas bucket that he lowered by rope to the ground. He returned to his trowel and painstakingly freed a rib cage with arms attached. As Arkady's eyes adjusted he saw that one entire face of the excavation was layered with human remains outlined by the snow, a cross section of soil with skulls for stones and femurs for sticks. Some were clothed, some weren't. The smell was of sweet compost.

The canvas bucket was passed fire brigade style across the pit and pulled by rope up to a tent where other shadowy bodies were laid out on tables. The colonel went from tent to tent and barked at the men sorting bones to work faster. In between orders, he kept an eye on Arkady.

Sergeant Gleb said, "They want all the bodies out by morning. They don't want people to see."

"How many so far?"

"It's a mass grave, who can say?"

"How old?"

"From the clothes, they say the forties or fifties. Holes in the back of the head. In the basement of the Supreme Court yet. March you right downstairs and boom! That's how they used to do it. That was some court."

The colonel joined them. He was in full winter regalia with a blue fur hat. Arkady wondered, not for the first time, what animal had blue fur.

The colonel said loudly, "There will be an investigation of these bodies to see whether criminal charges should be brought."

Heads turned along the line, many amused.

"Say that again," Arkady asked the colonel.

"What I said was, I can assure everyone that there will be an investigation of the dead to see whether criminal charges will be brought."

"Congratulations." Arkady put his arm around the colonel's shoulders and whispered, "That is the best joke I've heard all day."

The colonel's face turned a mottled red and he ducked out of Arkady's grip. Ah, well, another enemy made, Arkady thought.

Gleb asked, "What if the grave runs under the entire court?"

"That's always the problem, isn't it? Once you start digging, when to stop?"

Copyright © 2007 by Titanic Productions

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 39 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 27, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A Real Winner!

    Mr. Smith's novels are one of the few that I must have the day it is released and I believe that "Stalin's Ghost" is one of his best. Gorky Park is my favorite. It is rare for an author of a series to be so reliably outstanding but Smith does it in style. The story with the main character Arkady Renko is solid and the author doesn't disappoint. Again, Smith demonstrates in this novel that he is a master at having separate scenarios taking place, (3 in this novel) and blending them seamlessly.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 28, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Arkady endures

    I fell in love with William Hurt in the movie Gorky Park; I got over him in The Big Chill... But I digress. I discovered that the author of GP, Martin Cruz Smith, has written sequels with the same droll investigator as the central character. I took a trip to modern day Russia with his novel Stalin's Ghost, and enjoyed the non-stop action - a bit "Bourne" - while the historical detail was interesting as it shed some light on my shadowy concepts of that part of the world and its history. In the CD version, the narrator has this gruff Russian accent which adds to the ambiance. Definitely adult language, content, so be forewarned. (originally posted in my now-defunct book blog 5/22/08)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Stalin's Ghost should have stayed in the grave

    This book was not up to Smith's usual standards. The plot was weak and disjointed. The characters were not believable or likeable. I expected more after Gorky Park. A disappointment!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2008

    Good Addition to the Arkady Series

    Arkady is back, a little more worn and torn, and although far from the freshness of Gorky Park I still found it an enjoyable read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2008

    Great book. Great characters.

    I love the development of Arkady Renko from Gorky Park to this novel. I love the wicked humor among the characters in the book. Martin Cruz Smith is a great writer. He's complex, and visual, and emotional. I appreciate his talent so much.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2007

    a well written detective story

    This is a book that I hated to finish. I've read all of this author's previous titles, this may be my favorite. I felt I was in Moscow and although I don't really drink I began craving vodka. Authors tend to get too wordy when they use a continuing character but this book was well edited. The type is spaced well on the page too, making it really easy to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    This is an excellent Russian police procedural

    Moscow Police Department Senior Investigator Arkady Renko is horrified by the path that the clues of his current investigation take him as he looks into an apparent murder for the ¿firm¿. The evidence stacks up that the killers have employed two former Black Beret Chechnya War heroes turned police detectives, Nikolai Isakov and Marat Urman.------------------- That murderer for hire case is bothersome because of the apparent killers being his peers. However, the second case is more bewildering as Renko investigates accounts by seemingly reputable witnesses who claim they have seen STALIN¿S GHOST in the subways. Finally he also inquires into the sudden deaths of Black Berets who served with Isakov. As he works his three cases, Arkady sees the tie between them is Isakov, who is an untouchable as he runs for public office. Still Renko, in spite of threats warning him to back off or join the growing morgue population, seeks proof that will hang even the powerful Isakov.------------------------ This is an excellent Russian police procedural that will provide acclaim to Martin Cruz Smith as he excels with this deep look at the forces manipulating contemporary Moscow. The story line is classic sleuthing as Arkady methodically works one clue at a time on his three cases. His efforts serve as the focus keeping the investigations moving forward and coherent. Readers will enjoy his sixth outing as STALIN¿S GHOST will be considered one of the sub-genre¿s top tales of 2007.---------------------- Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 14, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Martin Cruz Smith, Stalin's Ghost

    In his sixth novel of Arkady Renko, Martin Cruz Smith continues to depict a calm, to some cold, Moscow detective, suffering through professional and personal setbacks. Arkady is challenged and even threatened by superiors and colleagues, while growing more fearful of losing his Eva to a young, popular hero of the Chechen war and fellow detective Nikolai Isakov. When Isakov takes over - and quickly solves - a couple of suspicious deaths, Arkady cannot leave it alone. But is it jealousy of a romantic rival that compels him forward or real evidence that Isakov is not what he seems. As always, Cruz enables the reader to feel life - and death - in Russia. The cold of the streets, the avarice of the new capitalists, the bitterness of the old guard. Stalin's Ghost was a fantastic read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    This Ghost Is Recommended

    Not a fan of mystery novels, I did find Stalin's Ghost a true page turner due to the intensity of the series of events and outcomes. The story starts where Renko has heard of the sighting of Stalin's ghost, which gives everyone chills. Arkady Renko can be identified as a man who's "private life is a shambles", as well as an investigator who is devoted and obsessed with his work. He is also the guardian of an orphan named Zhenya who loves to play chess. He pursues the investigation and comes across the ideals of human morals which includes corruption and dishonesty that surrounds him. The major themes in the novel are the realities of human morals which plays well within the story. Although, one thing I do dislike about the novel is how short the story is. It could've been longer, which could have also given the audience more feeling of obscurity, which would prolong some events. But, I did enjoy the dialogue of the characters because it gave the feeling that the characters had a sense of life in them, unlike other mystery novels which I find that many characters have similar characteristics from other mystery novels. I believe that others should read this just for sheer fun, and the gripping sensation of a great mystery novel. I truly enjoyed this book and would recommend Gorky Park, and Wolves Eat Dogs to others.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2010

    Stalin's Ghost

    He uses more swear words, much more than he used to. He didn't have to before. He can be such a good writer, he doesn't need to swear. A book you can hardly put down, like most of his. Arkady Renko is a great character.

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  • Posted December 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Stalin's Ghost

    In his sixth novel of Arkady Renko, Martin Cruz Smith continues to depict a calm, to some cold, Moscow detective, suffering through professional and personal setbacks. Arkady is challenged and even threatened by superiors and colleagues, while growing more fearful of losing his Eva to a young, popular hero of the Chechen war and fellow detective Nikolai Isakov. When Isakov takes over - and quickly solves - a couple of suspicious deaths, Arkady cannot leave it alone. But is it jealousy of a romantic rival that compels him forward or real evidence that Isakov is not what he seems. As always, Cruz enables the reader to feel life - and death - in Russia. The cold of the streets, the avarice of the new capitalists, the bitterness of the old guard. Stalin's Ghost was a fantastic read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 14, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent book

    An in-depth book, very imaginative and complete. This book does not leave you hanging. Excellent!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Great reading very different plot

    Very intreagueing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2007


    Confusing. Hard to follow. Made it for 100 pages and couldn't struggle anymore. At least that's better than my wife who read 23 pages and tossed it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2007

    A reviewer

    Arkady Renko...I couldn't resist re-visiting this old friend. Satan's Ghost takes us back into his world, a new Russia where crime and mobsters rule rather than Soviet bureaucrats. Cruz Smith does his usual good job except that the suspense of his previous novels is not quite here. This is more of a leisurely walk than a high-paced thriller. He left me wanting this book and hopefully many more.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews

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