Smith's first Arkady Renko novel, Gorky Park, became a best seller because it offered American readers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a world closed off to them. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, it would seem that Smith had nothing left to write about. But as he proved with Red Square and Havana Bay, the new Russia offers a rich source of material (and crimes). This time cynical but honest senior investigator Renko must determine whether the defenestration death of a Russian tycoon was suicide or murder. The discovery of radioactive salt in the dead man's apartment leads Renko to the abandoned Ukrainian towns of Chernobyl and Pripyat, still dangerously contaminated 18 years after the world's deadliest nuclear accident. There he finds a ghostly world inhabited by scavengers, elderly villagers, and a small group of Russian militia and scientists. As Renko pursues his investigation, he uncovers a greater crime, the sad legacy of Soviet ineptitude and corruption. Smith's latest is filled with the same eye for detail and fully developed characters that made Gorky Park so compelling.
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