Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith remains one of my favourite novels, which I first read as a teenager when I was going through a period of devouring spy thrillers. The novel published in 1981 is set in Moscow during the era of the Soviet Union. A police investigator called Arkady Renko is investigating the death of three mutilated bodies found frozen in Gorky Park in Moscow. He keeps suspecting then hoping that the KGB will take the case off his hands, since the bodies have had their faces and fingertips removed by the killer, so the case reeks of a contract or political killing. But the KGB won’t let it go, and Renko finds himself embroiled in a case that could cost him his career and even his life, regardless of whether he drops it or follows it to its logical end.
I was first drawn to the book by the movie, but found the book to be complex and rich and so many levels. While most thrillers of the day were told from the Western viewpoint of the cold war, the hero of this tale was a Russian. Similarly, I’d found that the story wasn’t over the top with a race to stop a nuclear World War Three that peppered so many plots in other Cold War thriller writers of the 1980s. I also enjoyed how well Smith captured what life was like inside Russia, which at the time was still closed behind the Iron Curtain.
The skill which Smith used to unfold the mystery interlaced with moments of reflection and tension stayed with me and became a big influence on my own writing, and one of the major contributing factors as to why I chose the thriller approach to structuring my own stories. His character, Arkady Renko with his dogged persistence to solve a mystery regardless of the consequences, influenced my character Harrison Peel who appeared in The Spiraling Worm.
I liked Gorky Park so much I went on to read more of Smith’s work, including more Arkady Renko novels such as Polar Star and Red Square, and his American Indian thrillers Nightwing and Stallion Gate.