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HAVANA BAY
By Martin Cruz Smith

Random House, May 1999, HC $25.95 (329 pp.)

Reviewed by Anthony Neil Smith

You can take the detective out of Russia, but you can't take Russia out of the detective.

Arkady Renko is back after a long break. The homicide cop is on what looks to be a vacation in Cuba as the novel begins, but we soon find out this trip is more of business than pleasure. Renko is asked to come when his friend (former enemy) Pribluda is discovered to be missing, but the body is found at almost the exact moment Renko gets off the plane. He's asked to make an ID of the body, then turn right around and fly back to Russia the same night.

But if it were that simple, we wouldn't have a novel, right?

What complicates things further is the fact that nearly all the Cubans hate Russians. Renko, not being satisfied with the explanation of Pribluda's death, digs for more, only to be hassled and threatened every inch of the way. Even the woman detective Ofelia Osorio, whom forms an uneasy alliance with Renko, neither likes nor trusts him.

With the political and ideological differences ratcheting up the already tense anxiety surrounding this investigation, Smith delivers more than just a good detective novel. It's also a political thriller, a travelogue, and a search for redemption, if it can even be found. GORKY PARK, the novel that introduced Arkady Renko, is a classic, published at a time when there was still a Soviet Union, overseen by Communism and the KGB.

With HAVANA BAY, we see that Renko is having to deal with a new world. His homeland is in chaos, money is tight, and living is not easy. The trip to Cuba, we discover, has another purpose for Renko, one that involves the loss of hope that comes with the loss of a spouse. But along the way, with the investigation of Pribluda's death carrying him moment by moment, Renko rediscovers his gifts as an investigator, giving him a reason to exist.

Great work from Martin Cruz Smith, continuing an unusual detective series that dares to be much more.


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