I discovered this book in a bag of goodies from a friend and was glad of the chance to get reacquainted with Investigator Arkady Renko of the Moscow prosecutor's office. Poor Renko has really gotten the shaft, for lack of a better term, from the powers-that-be. He just doesn't let well enough alone, doesn't play politics, and he ignores "unwritten rules." Now, just to top everything off, his lover Eva has left him for a rising star, Detective Nikolai Isakov, who is a veteran of the Chechnyan civil war.
Obviously, I'm fond of Renko and love mysteries set in that part of the world, so I was doubly disappointed that I wasn't fond of this novel. This may be my fault as there has been a lot going on in my life, but I was confused throughout the story. There were a few too many convenient coincidences along the way as well for my taste.
I'm not saying this isn't a good book by any means. I don't think Martin Cruz Smith is capable of writing a bad book, but perhaps he presumed readers were more knowledgeable about Russia than I am. I don't know enough about the history in Chechnya, for instance, to catch on to much of the story. I'm not knowledgeable either about elections in Russia and in this novel Isakov is a candidate for office who is not shy about using devious methods to get more attention by the press.
At the beginning of the book Renko, always in disfavor, has been assigned to investigate what's really happening when people swear they are seeing the ghost of Stalin at a certain railroad station at night. How far he has fallen, he thinks, but the ghost sightings lead him into a deep investigation of Isakov. Is he doing this because there is a real crime, or is it simply jealousy over Eva? You'll have to read the book to find out.