Matte’s Blog

Renko Festival

I read Polar Star in 1992 on Jon Carroll’s recommendation and was just blown away by the combination of thrilling plot and fine writing.  No spoiler here, but when i read the last six words, i sat there marveling, feeling that the purpose of the whole damn book was to set up those six words.

So of course i immediately read Gorky Park with great enjoyment, fell in love with the Russian investigator Arkady Renko and then impatiently waited for the sequels, gobbling them up as soon as they were published.  All were entertaining thrillers tracking Arkady’s career and life, and all were studded with lines so fine that even now in my senility some of them pop to mind.  Like in Wolves Eat Dogs when Arkady has questioned the cook and housekeeper of man who’d been fatally poisoned with radioactive cesium and determined that they knew nothing of the plot, “and besides, their hair loss seemed sincere.”

My goodness, i loved these novels.  But then, Something Happened, and i stopped checking for new ones after i read Wolves Eat Dogs.

Well, a few days ago i thought of Arkady again, did a search, and discovered that Smith has been at it to the tune of three more sequels.

God bless the Sonoma County Library system, most particularly the Petaluma branch, for having all three of them.  They’re stacked up now on my table, and i’ve just finished them.  Stalin’s Ghost, Three Stations, and Tatiana.   All were enjoyable, the but main pleasure i got from them was in the development of Zhenya, the orphan boy Arkady took in at the end of Wolves Eat Dogs.  The standard has slipped, but they’re still good enough to be read with enjoyment by Arkady fans.  The real falling off doesn’t start until after Stalin’s Ghost.

My favorite is Polar Star, but i recommend starting at the beginning with Gorky Park because part of the joy of reading these novels is in Smith’s development of Arkady’s life and in his tracing the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the rise of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

Here they are:

  1. Gorky Park (1981)
  2. Polar Star (1989)
  3. Red Square (1992)
  4. Havana Bay (1999)
  5. Wolves Eat Dogs (2004)
  6. Stalin’s Ghost (2007)
  7. Three Stations (2010)
  8. Tatiana (2013)

Meanwhile, a sturdy bench in a shopping center on North McDowell.

North McDowell bench


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  1. ckm3
    Posted 7 December 2013 at 09:18 | Permalink

    For most people, what stays in Las Vegas is the money.

    Most excellent turning of the phrase

    • Matte Gray
      Posted 7 December 2013 at 14:26 | Permalink

      Many thanks.

  2. Chimpus_Dorkus
    Posted 21 December 2013 at 19:59 | Permalink

    Ouch. Poor bb, here’s hoping you have some good holidays etc to cheer you up and a speedy recovery.
    Be careful, will ya?!?

    • Matte Gray
      Posted 21 December 2013 at 20:50 | Permalink

      The holidays are most definitely cheerful, the recovery is progressing apace, and the caution level has been dramatically increased.

  3. Posted 24 January 2014 at 12:08 | Permalink

    Thank you for remembering Barry. And for loving him, as I did. I am glad he got to see a loving face before he died. You are right, he wanted to go out on his terms and it was never going to be pretty. Barry, even though he’d be cleaned up, was always disappointed after falling or having a heart attack, being picked up by ambulance, treated and then dumped right back onto the streets… He gave up hope for a place indoors after realizing that even that level of frailty was not enough to deserve housing in this city. he did admit to me he would have preferred to live inside. As you said, he was not crazy. 🙂 Again, thanks for the love and kindness you and others showed him. I know he appreciated it.

    • Matte Gray
      Posted 24 January 2014 at 12:26 | Permalink

      Since i wrote that account i’ve been back to the makeshift shrine several times and have talked with folks who knew him longer than i, people who were also there the afternoon before he died and to whom he also expressed very clearly that he did not want to go to the hospital. Some of the people who knew him better are organizing a little wake for him on the 1st of February, and i’ll post more details here as i learn them. Meanwhile, a useful resource is, with an article on 22 Jan that has extensive comments.

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