Best Review of Havana Bay: Martin Cruz Smith (arkady Renko Series Book 4):
Most helpful customer reviews 42 of 43 people found the following review helpful. Inferno Con Salsa By Richard Wells Martin Cruz Smith is the Dante of post-Soviet Russia, and Arkady Renko, Mr. Cruz Smith's protagonist in the "Gorky Park" series is our guide to the nether regions. Renko is the perfect Russian: tortured, haunted, romantic, and in need of a square meal. The problem is, if you fed him he'd probably go into shock from the nourishment. In "Havana Bay" Renko doesn't seem to consume much more than strong cigarettes and the left-over pickles in a recently murdered (?) friend's refrigerator. And how a Russian in Cuba gets home-style pickles is a mystery unto itself.Mr. Cruz Smith is a master of atmosphere and character. In his series he takes us from Moscow, to the Bering Sea, to Havana, and each locale is another vision of hell on earth. He has a detailists eye, and whether it's the slick of oil on water, the tactile pleasure of a cold can of beer, or the sound of cloven hooves on marble he awakens each scene with particulars. Havana is a city being slowly strangled by economics and regressing to the corruption and lust for the tourist dollar of the Batista era.Mr. Cruz Smith's characters are neither black nor white, but the moral gray of humans under stress. Yes, the good guys are good, but they are also flawed, and that accounts for much of their attraction. Renko, Orfelia his Cuban detective inamorata, George Washington Walls an ex-pat US radical, and the sundry other characters in this well written, literate, mystery are all worth watching. Mr. Cruz Smith doesn't sketch, he paints.Settle back, read, and you are there - have a good time in hell! 29 of 33 people found the following review helpful. Above average mystery thriller By R. Albin This is the latest installment in a series starring the Moscow investigator Arkady Renko. For those familiar with this series, this book is most similar to the second installment, Polar Star. Like all of Cruz Smith's books, this is a well written and capably plotted mystery. As with all the books in the series, the plot involves murder, political intrigue, and official corruption. Neither Havana Bay nor its two predecessors approach the quality of the original book in the series, Gorky Park. That book was a particularly stylish and imaginative variation of the classic American detective novel developed by Raymond Chandler in which the protagonist is the only decent individual, or at least the only individual interested in the truth, in a corrupt milieu. In Gorky Park, Renko's preoccupation with finding the truth makes him into a virtually heroic figure in Soviet Moscow. In the subsequent books, Renko appears more passive. This is particularly true in Havana Bay, where the suicidal Renko's grip on life has become tenuous and his interest in the truth seems more a matter of habit than passion. Cruz Smith does not apparently have the ability to make Renko's despair realistic enough to make the characterization compelling. The most interesting character is Renko's Cuban counterpart and love interest, a female detective caught in the contradictions of her idealism and the reality of post-Cold War Cuba. Still, this is a decent read and better than most books in this genre. 13 of 13 people found the following review helpful. Luminous setting - murky plot By Doug Vaughn Havana Bay, like many of Martin Cruz Smith's books, works becasue he recreates the milieu of his story so well - and because it is so interesting a setting. The plot itself is so dense that it recedes behind the scenery. Arkady Renko, Russian and self-conscious to the core, stands out like a sore thumb in Havana. His clothes, his attitude, his singular search for the truth about what happened to his late 'friend', all set him apart from those around him and propel him to the less than exciting conclusion that Cruz serves up for the reader. Far from the best of the Renko series, Havana Bay is still an interesting story and deserves to be read. Cruz can conjure up locale and scene better than any writter I know. If for no other reason than a vicarious trip to contemporary Havana, I would recommend this book. See all 223 customer reviews...
Amazon.com In this fourth book in Martin Cruz Smith's splendid series, an amiable Irish American gangster explains to Arkady Renko what he and the other 84 wanted Americans hiding out in Cuba do with themselves. "We try to stay alive. Useful. Tell me, Arkady, what are you doing here?" "The same," says Renko--and it's true. His life as a Russian cop has become so bleak and lonely that he takes any opportunity to shake things up, even spending his own savings to fly to Havana when an old colleague is found dead--floating inside an inner tube after night-fishing in Havana Bay. Renko sets out to make himself useful in this shabby, fascinating, haunted country whose inhabitants look on Russians with the cold disdain of survivors of a nasty divorce. As he did so well in Gorky Park, Smith again makes Renko very much a classic Russian hero in temperament and tradition, but also the eternal outsider. He is at times close to the edge of despair--but his trip to Havana restores his natural curiosity and life force. In this hot Havana, ripe with the fruity smell of sex, Renko keeps his Moscow overcoat on--until an equally idealistic and out-of-place young female cop gets him to loosen up. There's an unusually complex plot, even for the sly strand-spinner Smith. He raises baffling questions: Why would a group of military plotters order illegal lobsters in a fancy restaurant and then not eat them? And his descriptions of Cuban life are dead-on, reminding us on every page what a superb stylist he is. --Dick Adler From Library Journal Arkady Renko, perhaps Russia's last honest policeman, has arrived in Cuba to look into the death of a colleague. Opening on a corpse scene so gruesome that Virginia's Kay Scarpetta might get the willies, the plot quickly submerges into a surreal cauldron of dark beliefs, Cuban patriotism, and American wheeling and dealing. Where in Polar Star (Random, 1989) Smith explored the coldest regions, here he glories in the Caribbean riot of sensual heat and light. There are cameo characters who capture Fidel's Cuba while Arkady struggles with the elemental challenges of survival and discovery. This novel illuminates the dark corners of a sunny Havana and deftly portrays a society trapped in a Soviet legacy of deprivation and control. Smith writes incomparably well while willing the reader to reach for understanding of the human passions he describes. Every library will soon have a long waiting list for this spectacular new book. [A BOMC main selection; previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/99.]ABarbara Conaty, Library of Congres.-ABarbara Conaty, Library of Congress Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. From Booklist It was inevitable somehow that Arkady Renko, hero of Gorky Park, would find his way to Cuba. As Russian as he is cynical, as disgusted with the capitalistic excesses of the new Russia as he was with the bungling bureaucracy of the Communists, the melancholy Renko, now suicidal after the tragic death of his lover, Irina, comes to Havana to help his longtime friend General Pribluda, but he arrives just as the general's body is being pulled from the bay. But is it really Pribluda? Renko won't make a positive identification, and soon enough unknown forces are trying to kill him, unaware that if they had just waited a little longer, Arkady would have done the job himself. Instead, the attempt on his life rejuvenates the woebegone investigator ("I don't mind a car hitting me, but I do mind a driver trying to hit me"). The Renko series has always lived on irony--a cop who cares about truth working in a system designed to distort it--and this installment is perhaps the most heavily ironic yet: Renko, in a country where Russians are now despised for selling out socialism, again struggling simultaneously against both an unyielding bureaucracy and the chaotic forces that would overthrow it--and working with a feisty female cop who is the mirror image of the young Renko in Gorky Park. Smith's beautifully evoked Cuba--rusting idealism set against resurgent decadence--makes the perfect foil for a melancholic truth-seeker whose determination masks the best irony of all: he doesn't particularly believe in the very things he seeks to defend. Readers who respond to the browbeaten detectives in our "Hard-Boiled Gazetteer to the British Isles" (p.1456) will love Renko. Bill Ott
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