Tatiana (Arkady Renko Series #8)

Tatiana (Arkady Renko Series #8)

3.9 28
by Martin Cruz Smith

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Martin Cruz Smith's “masterful” (USA TODAY) and “irresistible” (People) New York Times bestseller and Washington Post notable book of the year: Arkady Renko must connect the dots among a Russian journalist’s mysterious death, corrupt politicians, murderous gangsters, and brazen bureaucrats.


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Martin Cruz Smith's “masterful” (USA TODAY) and “irresistible” (People) New York Times bestseller and Washington Post notable book of the year: Arkady Renko must connect the dots among a Russian journalist’s mysterious death, corrupt politicians, murderous gangsters, and brazen bureaucrats.

Arkady Renko, one of the iconic investigators of contemporary fiction, has survived the cultural journey from the Soviet Union to the New Russia, only to find the nation as obsessed with secrecy and brutality as was the old Communist dictatorship. In Tatiana, the melancholy hero unravels a mystery as complex and dangerous as modern Russia itself.

The reporter Tatiana Petrovna falls to her death from a sixth-floor window in Moscow the same week that a mob billionaire is shot and buried with the trappings due a lord. The trail leads to Kaliningrad, a Cold War “secret city” that is separated by hundreds of miles from the rest of Russia. The more Arkady delves into Tatiana’s past, the more she leads him into a surreal world of wandering sand dunes, abandoned children, and a notebook written in the personal code of a dead translator. Finally, in a lethal race to uncover what the translator knew, Renko makes a startling discovery that draws him still deeper into Tatiana’s past—and, paradoxically, into Russia’s future, where bulletproof cars, poets, corruption of the Baltic Fleet, and a butcher for hire combine to give Kaliningrad the “distinction” of having the highest crime rate in Russia.

More than a mystery, Tatiana is Martin Cruz Smith’s most ambitious and politically daring novel since Gorky Park. It is a story rich in character, black humor, and romance, with an insight that is the hallmark of a writer The New York Times has called “endlessly entertaining and deeply serious…[not merely] our best writer of suspense, but of one of our best writers, period.”

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Editorial Reviews

In the prologue to Tatiana, Martin Cruz Smith does what many thriller writers do; he sets the tone and pace, aiming to snare the reader. The only surprise, almost thirty years after Arkady Renko's first appearance in Gorky Park, is that Cruz Smith still does this better than most. "It was the sort of day that didn't give a damn," he begins. "Summer was over, the sky was low and drained of color, and dead leaves hung like crepe along the road." On an empty lane outside the Baltic port of Kaliningrad, a lone cyclist races towards a deserted beach. Joseph, a gifted interpreter who has just finished a sensitive corporate assignment in the city, then walks barefoot across the dunes and waits — for friends, he tells a drunk who approaches him. But the drunk produces "...a nickel-plated pistol that he weighed in his hand like loose change." The shock of what follows is amplified by the surrounding silence and space that Cruz Smith vividly evokes. "The birds were momentarily startled by a shot-waves rolled in with the sound of beads spilled on a marble floor."

At the core of the novel's clever, interlocking plot lies the interpreter's missing notebook, the sole record of his last corporate assignment, but before that thread is followed, two other deaths demand Senior Investigator Arkady Renko's attention. "Everyone agreed that Grisha looked, considering the hole in the back of his head, pretty good," he observes of the lavishly laid out remains of Grisha Grigenko, a Moscow arts patron and Mafia boss whose funeral attracts "...billionaires who had their arms around the nation's timber and natural gas-and actors who only played assassins rubbing shoulders with the real thing." Renko and his Falstaff-like sergeant, Victor Orlov, survey the graveside congregation of untouchable criminals, trading barbs with Alexi Grigenko, the presumptive heir to his father's criminal empire. ("Is that how they speak in business school in America?" Renko inquires.)

The other noteworthy corpse, that of Tatiana Petrovna, an investigative journalist who recently committed suicide, is missing, and Renko suspects a cover-up by the authorities and a connection to the underworld. Warned off by his boss ("Your colleagues are fed up with the melodrama of your life") and cautioned by the surgeon who treated the gunshot wound that left shrapnel in his head, Renko, "an expert in self-destruction," proceeds. Entering Tatiana's life through old tape recordings found in her apartment, he listens to her descriptions of hostage stand-offs that end in slaughter — at a Beslan school, a Moscow theater — and finally to a faint Morse code signal from the doomed nuclear submarine Kursk. The tapping says, "We are alive." The cassette is labeled "Grisha."

Russian submarines, Baltic amber, coded notebooks, and contract killers fall gracefully into place with each turn of the kaleidoscope. There may be one turn too many, and some pieces may dangle. Tatiana is, nonetheless, one of Cruz Smith's leanest and most elegiac novels. Suffused with gray Baltic light and darker Russian shadows, it leaves Renko, toward the end, contemplating "...a band of darkening clouds that stretched across the horizon and seemed to suck up the sea." With nowhere to go, in other words, but back to his precarious, ghost-ridden life.

Anna Mundow, a longtime contributor to The Irish Times and The Boston Globe, has written for The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among other publications.

Reviewer: Anna Mundow

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Product Details

Center Point Large Print
Publication date:
Arkady Renko Series, #8
Edition description:
Large Print
Product dimensions:
5.94(w) x 8.64(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt


  • It was the sort of day that didn’t give a damn. Summer was over, the sky was low and drained of color, and dead leaves hung like crepe along the road. Into this stillness dashed a cyclist in red spandex, pumping furiously, taking advantage of the flat terrain.

    Joseph spoke six languages. In restaurants he spoke French, with tradesmen he preferred Chinese and he dreamed in Thai. He was a one-man crowd. It meant that he could travel and find work anywhere in the world. The United Nations sent him one place and the European Union sent him somewhere else. Always, he took his black custom-made bike, his designer jersey and shorts, his molded saddle and tear-shaped helmet. He had started biking too late in life to be a competitive racer, but he could astonish the locals at most rallies. Anyway, winning didn’t matter. It was the tension, the feeling of a drawn bow, that he found most satisfying. At this point he calculated he had ridden twice around the world. He’d never married. His schedule wouldn’t allow it. He felt sorry for saps stuck on tandem bikes.

    He loved word games. He had a photographic memory—an eidetic memory, to be exact. He could look at a crossword puzzle and play it out in his mind while he biked, teasing out those words that existed only in crossword puzzles: ecru, ogee, amo, amas, amat. A clue that was not in English was all the easier. A tort was a civil action; a torte was a piece of cake. A full-grown anagram could occupy his mind from Toulon to Aix-en-Provence. He had the afternoon off, and he needed it after interfacing in Russian and Chinese. When the two sides broke early, the interpreter seized the opportunity to ride.

    He prided himself on finding routes out of the ordinary. His idea of hell was being in Tuscany or Provence stuck behind tourists wobbling on and off the road in rented bikes as they worked off a lunch of cheese and wine. Elastic pockets in the back of his jersey held water bottles, energy bars, a map and repair kit. He was willing to patch a tire or two if he could have a new vista to himself. Kaliningrad had a reputation of being ugly and crime ridden, a city that was an orphan or bastard or both. Escape the city, however, and, voilà, a pastoral delight.

    He was born to translate; his father was Russian, his mother French, and both were Berlitz instructors. In boarding school he spread a rumor that they were dead, tragically killed in a car crash in Monte Carlo, and became the boy most invited for the holidays by wealthy classmates. He was ingratiating and sometimes he imagined ending his days as a guest in a villa not far from the sea. He still sent his parents a card at Christmastime, although he hadn’t seen them for years.

    He interpreted for film stars and heads of state, but the most lucrative work was corporate negotiations. They were usually carried out by small teams operating in strict confidentiality and an interpreter had to be omnipresent yet nearly invisible. Most of all, he had to be discreet, trusted to forget what he heard, to wipe the slate clean when the job was done.

    As the road became a country lane he flew past occasional ruins of brick smothered by lilacs. Fortunately, there was almost no traffic. He navigated pothole after pothole and, at one point, rode through asphalt as humped as waves. A butcher’s van with a plastic pig on the roof came the opposite way and seemed to aim straight at the bike until they passed like ships at sea.

    In fact, the interpreter had not erased everything. There were his notes. Even if the notes were stolen, they would be safe, because nobody could read them but himself.

    The road ended at a desolate parking area with a shuttered kiosk and a billboard of events past. An ice-cream cart lay on its side. Everything described postseason ennui. Nevertheless, when he heard the screech of gulls he got off his bike and carried it over the brow of a dune to a view of a beach that stretched in either direction as far as he could see and wavelets that advanced in regular order. Mist turned the sea and sky into luminous bands of blue. Sand skipped in the wind and nestled into beach grass that grew among the dunes. Rough wooden beach umbrellas, stripped of canvas, stood guard, but no one else was in view, which made it perfect.

    He set the bicycle down on the sand and removed his helmet. This was a find. This was the sort of mini-adventure that would make for a good story around the fireplace with a glass of red wine and a captivated audience. A little derring-do to cap his career. To give it significance; that was the word.

    Although the air was cool, Joseph was warm from cycling, and he removed his biking shoes and socks. The sand was fine, not like the loose stones of most resorts, and unspoiled, probably because Kaliningrad had been a closed city during the Cold War. Water rushed up, hissed around his feet, and drew back.

    His reverie was interrupted by the approach of a vehicle rolling like a drunken sailor across the beach. It was the butcher van. The plastic piggy, pink and smiley, rocked from side to side until the van came to a stop and a man about thirty years old with a homburg and stringy hair climbed out. A dirty apron fluttered around him.

    “Looking for amber?”

    Joseph asked, “Why would I be looking for amber?”

    “This is the place. But you have to wait for a storm. You have to wait for a storm to rile up all the amber.”

    Roil, not rile, Joseph thought, but let it pass. Joseph detected nothing in common with the man, no intellect to engage with. Sooner or later the character would demand money for vodka and they’d be done.

    “I’m waiting for friends,” Joseph said.

    The tilt of the homburg lent the butcher an antic air. He seemed dizzy or drunk—in any case, so amused at a private joke that he stumbled into the bike.

    “Idiot! Watch where you’re going!” Joseph said.

    “Sorry, real sorry. Say, is this Italian?” The butcher picked up the bicycle by its top rail. “S’fucking beautiful. You don’t see many of these in Kaliningrad.”

    “I wouldn’t know.”

    “You can take my word for it.”

    Joseph noticed that the butcher’s hands were nicked and raw from handling frozen beef, and his apron was suitably daubed with liverish stains, although his sandals were hardly appropriate footwear for slippery ice lockers.

    “Can you give me the bike, please? The last thing I want is sand in the gears.”

    “No problem.” The butcher let the bike drop and brightly asked, “Holidays?”


    “It’s a question. Are you here on holidays or business?”


    The butcher’s face split into a grin. “Really? You came to Kaliningrad for a vacation? You deserve a medal.” He pretended to pin a decoration to Joseph’s chest. “Give me the highlights of Kaliningrad. Like, what did you see this morning?”

    Joseph had worked all morning, not that it was anyone else’s concern, but the butcher produced a nickel-plated pistol that he weighed in his hand like loose change. What had been to Joseph a cool breeze now gave him a chill, and grains of sand stuck to the sweat on his skin. Maybe this was an ordinary shakedown. No problem. He would pay whatever was asked and be reimbursed by the client.

    “Are you the police?”

    “Do I look like the fucking police?”

    “No.” Joseph’s heart sank. He had been trained to be calm and cooperative in hostage situations. The statistics were actually reassuring. People only got killed when someone tried to be a hero. “What do you want?”

    “I saw you at the hotel with those people. They’re surrounded by bodyguards and have a whole floor to themselves.” The butcher became confidential. “Who are they?”


    “International business or they wouldn’t need an interpreter, right? Without you, everything comes to a halt. The machinery stops, doesn’t it? The big wheel is stopped by the little wheel, isn’t that so?”

    Joseph was uneasy. This was Kaliningrad, after all. The pig glowed, happy to go to the abattoir. Joseph contemplated running from this madman. Even if he didn’t get shot, he would have to abandon his bike; the sand was too deep and soft for the tires. The entire scene was demeaning.

    “I just interpret,” Joseph said. “I’m not responsible for content.”

    “And take notes of secret meetings.”

    “Totally legal. The notes simply aid my memory.”

    “Secret meetings or you wouldn’t be in Kaliningrad; you’d be living it up in Paris.”

    “It’s sensitive,” Joseph conceded.

    “I bet it is. You have a real skill. People run at the mouth and you translate it word for word. How do you remember it all?”

    “That’s where the notes come in.”

    “I’d like to see those.”

    “You wouldn’t understand them.”

    “I can read.”

    Joseph was quick to say, “I wasn’t suggesting that you couldn’t, only that the material is highly technical. And they’re confidential. We’d be breaking the law.”

    “Show me.”

    “I honestly can’t.” Joseph looked around and saw nothing but gulls patrolling the beach in case food appeared. No one had told the gulls that the season was over.

    “You don’t get it. I don’t need to know the ins and outs. I’m a pirate like those Africans who hijack tankers. They don’t know a dog’s turd about oil. They’re just a few black bastards with machine guns, but when they hijack a tanker they hold all the cards. Companies pay millions to get their ships back. The hijackers aren’t going to war; they’re just fucking up the system. Tankers are their targets of opportunity and that’s what you are, my target of opportunity. All I’m asking is ten thousand dollars for a notebook. I’m not greedy.”

    “If you’re just an errand boy that changes everything.” Immediately, Joseph understood that it was the wrong thing to say and the wrong way to have said it. It was like poking a cobra. “Let me . . . show . . .” Joseph reached around and wrestled with the pockets of his jersey, spilling a water bottle and energy bars until he found a notebook and pencils.

    “Is this it?” the butcher asked.

    “Yes, only it’s not what you expect.”

    The butcher opened the notebook to the first page. Flipped to the second page, the third and fourth. Finally, he raced to the end.

    “What the fuck is this? Pictures of cats? Doodles?”

    “That’s how I take notes.” Joseph couldn’t help a hint of pride.

    “How do I know these are the notes?”

    “I’ll read them to you.”

    “You could say anything you fucking please. What am I supposed to show them?”

    “Who is them?”

    “Who do you think? These people, you fuck with them, they fuck with you.”

    His employers? If he could just explain.

    “My notes—”

    “Are a joke? I’ll show you a joke.” The butcher dragged Joseph to the back of the van and opened the rear door. Out of the interpreter’s many languages, the only word that came to mind was Jesu. Inside the van, two skinned lambs hung upside down, looking cold and blue.

    Joseph couldn’t find more to say. He couldn’t even find the air.

    “Let the birds read it.” The butcher cast the notebook into the wind, then tossed Joseph into the back of the van and climbed in after.

    From everywhere gulls materialized. They descended as a succession of thieves, each robbing the other. Every scrap from Joseph’s pockets was snatched and inspected. A tug-of-war developed over a half-eaten energy bar. The birds were momentarily startled by a shot and a winner flew off, trailed by other gulls and screams of outrage. The rest settled into a sullen peace facing the wind. As the haze retreated, a horizon appeared and waves rolled in with the sound of beads spilled on a marble floor.

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    Tatiana 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
    wandererDE More than 1 year ago
    IMO this author uses a different approach to keep readers coming back for more "Arkady Renko". Instead of relying on a formula of ever increasing and more bizarre butchery and violence, Smith reaches the reader with the characters themselves. Renko's sarcastic humor and utterly noir view of Russia and himself refreshes contact with Arkady. The detailed descriptions of Russia are high appreciated and lend an air of compelling drama to his stories. This is talented character series writing at its best. Instead of becoming ordinary the stories bring the reader back like visiting an old friend. Why no fifth star? I'm brutal. Five stars are an exalted rating, Like for a bottle of 1967 Chateau Haut Brion, the fifth star is an exceptional rating. I'll be purchasing the next Arkady Renko novel.
    Sean_From_OHIO More than 1 year ago
    You ever hear yourself in a fictional character? I do. Every time I read Arkady Renko's exploits I hear my voice. Which is odd because I am nowhere near a Russian police officer. What Martin Cruz Smith is able to with his series is create a Russia that you both want to visit and avoid. The sarcastic and oft-defeated Renko is perfect for this world. Smith's minimalistic approach is always refreshing but at the same time I want to read more. I always I wholeheartedly enjoyed this but just wished for a longer adventure.
    Andrew_of_Dunedin More than 1 year ago
    “Tatiana”, the 8th appearance of Russian investigator Arkady Renko, shows that Martin Cruz Smith is still on his game and still has something to say about the world's largest country through the eyes and experiences of this character.   This novel shows glimpses into the current situation between the government and dissenters, the importance of chess, the opening of formerly “closed” cities, and the current state of organized crime in the former Soviet Union – both outside and inside of official channels.  As usual, this Renko novel is very much dependent on its location; it would require extensive rewrites to shift this novel to any other country. This novel ALSO carries on an unfortunate trend, in that the author had more to say about the government in the former Soviet Union than he does about what Russia has currently evolved to.  This is mild criticism, as those early works were absolutely wonderful in my opinion, while the follow-ups have been merely – MERELY – very, very good.  (Smith's “bad days” at the word processor are still much better than most people's “genius” periods!) In my opinion, this novel left some subplots dangling.  Let's start off with “Piggy” (readers will learn who this is in the prologue).  Smith treats him as a minor character, who shows up on a few occasions to provide major advances to plot.  In my opinion, “Piggy” should have been fleshed out and given not just a subplot BUT a parallel main plot to the one that is described in the novel.  Secondly, Anya.  Smith paints a  very interesting (and effective) verbal portrait in her last meeting with Renko … then totally forgets that she exists.  I was waiting for closure; two days after finishing the novel, I'm still waiting. I'm going to grade on a curve.  Normally, a work like this would rate a solid 4 stars, if not higher.  However, as Smith has shown he's capable of much more, I'm not going to be as generous. RATING: 3 ½ stars, rounded down to 3 stars.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Having read the entire series, i can say that the last two books seem as if they were written by someone else. The first 10 or so chapters engaged me enough to suffer through to the end. After that the last two books follow a similar course, a path that the first six thankfully escaped. The plots become silly. The dialogue becomes sophmoric. And character motivation and development infantile. There is simply no way that the second halves of the last two books were written by Smith. Smith should not have let his good name get tarnished by these two travesties, and the publisher should.have known better as well.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Smith has run out of steam with Arkady. Writing is wooden, plot not believable and way too many characters with superficial development.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I like the author and have read two other of his books
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Would have told me enough to avoid another two bucks archieved deeply unpleasant
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    tedfeit0 More than 1 year ago
    As is his custom, Moscow investigator Arkady Renko butts in when a woman plunges to her death from her upstairs apartment. He is told she was a famous crusading journalist (something hard to believe in Russia, now or in the past) and it sets him off on an investigation that takes him to a place on the Baltic Sea very few of us even know exists. A map shows Kaliningrad as part of Russian territory south of Lithuania where there is a naval base. Renko becomes obsessed with the dead woman and eventually learns of corruption involving the Russian mafia, government officials and others (so what else is new?). It seems that a translator who attended a high level conference in Kaliningrad who had kept a notebook is also murdered, and his notes, written in an undecipherable manner, come into Renko’s possession. Unfortunately, he can’t understand anything in the notebook which would unveil the plot. Written in a tight and smooth manner, the novel flows from beginning to end. More than in past Renko novels, the story delves more deeply into present day Russia, its politics, business practices and corruption. It is a welcome addition to the series and is recommended.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Thin,disjointed plot. Poor character development. I don't know why I bothered to finish it.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    MedPhys More than 1 year ago
    Good series
    Midwesterner2 More than 1 year ago
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    ElizMcGinnis More than 1 year ago
    If you have read the other Arkady Renko books you will love this one. I have read all of them and this is the best one yet. It is fast paced with a surprise on practically every page. It was difficult to put down until I read the whole thing. Arkady Renko is a fascinating personality and this book would easil create a lively book club discussion.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Interesting characters and evocative scenery.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Martin Cruz Smith is a wonderful writer. His Russian detective Arkady Renko is truly engaging with a relentless desire for truth and justice in a corrupt new world of Russia. This is a must read for anyone that loves great detectives, and interested in the world after the Soviet Union. This would be a fun read for a book club that loves a good detective story and contemporary history.
    chuckCR More than 1 year ago
    not one of his better efforts
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago