The National Post’s Afterword: Peggy Blair on Gorky Park

Hot off the online presses, here is an article I wrote for the National Post’s Afterword, and its regular feature: Old Book, New Author. It was published today. You can find it and other great articles by other authors, here:

“A man thinks he is hardened to death; he has walked into hot kitchens covered from floor to ceiling in blood, is an expert, knows that in the summer people seem ready to explode with blood; he even prefers winter’s stiffs. Then a new death mask pops out of the snow.”

In Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith, three corpses are found in a Moscow park, frozen in the snow, face and fingers removed, mutilated. Chief Investigator Arkady Renko is assigned to investigate by Major Pribluda of the KGB, who “practically pisses” on the bodies before he turns the case over. Renko suspects Pribluda of being involved, but proceeds doggedly to find the truth.

Brilliant but flawed, and cynical about everything except his investigations, Renko was the first “anti-hero” I’d ever encountered in a mystery novel. I adored him then, and still do.

As a child, I remember being told to hide under my school desk if the Soviets launched a nuclear bomb. The Soviet Union was the enemy of the United States and that made it our enemy too.

I first read Gorky Park when it came out in 1981 (I’ve read it many times since). Through the agency of Arkady Renko, I was introduced to  a culture that was foreign but familiar. His Moscow was paralyzed with an inane bureaucracy, plagued with shortages, and rife with corruption. Cruz Smith’s  characters weren’t the stereotypes I’d grown up with; they were real.

Renko’s investigation took me far beyond the murders in Gorky Park and into the heart of Soviet society. Through Cruz Smith, I learned that fiction sometimes tells the truth in a way that non-fiction can’t.

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