Saturday, February 16, 2013

Polar Star

Martin Cruz Smith's follow up to Gorky Park is the excellent Polar Star.  I mostly liked the former novel, but felt like it was aiming for a take on international espionage that it didn't quite pull off.  This novel isn't really focused on the espionage angle so much, which is a plus, but, more importantly, Cruz uses the setting of a fishing factory boat to brilliant effect.

As the novel starts, Arkady Renko is hiding out on the eponymous "Polar Star," a huge Soviet factory ship taking in the fish trawled by some American fishing vessels in a joint American/Soviet venture.  When one of the fish-cleaners on the ship dies mysteriously, Arkady is briefly rehabilitated so that he can find out who killed her.

The story takes place almost entirely on the titular "Polar Star," a claustrophobic environment that Smith uses to great effect in a few cat-and-mouse sequences.  Smith's writing is spare but evocative -- one can almost feel the cold while reading this novel.  His cast of villains is various and impressive, from the smug Communist official Volovoi to an old criminal from Arkady's past.  It's also a nice touch that, although these various bad guys are sometimes allied, they each have their own agendas and none of them really knows the full story of what's going on.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this novel, and am looking forward to reading the third Renko novel.

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