Aug 202016


By Martin Cruz Smith

Four Stars

Read September 2014

I slammed Smith’s last Renko mystery for too little story, and his recent revelation that he’s suffering from Parkinson’s, which now requires him to dictate his novels to his wife, may provide some insight into the problems with that book. But those problems definitely are not in evidence in his most recent novel, Tatiana, which may be shorter than earlier works but still delivers a full and satisfying read. The novel opens with the murder of a translator in Khaliningrad, Russia’s Baltic Sea port that is separated from the motherland by hundreds of miles of former Soviet republics. That killing is soon followed by the falling death of Tatiana Petrovna, an investigative reporter who goes out a Moscow window the same week a Russian mob boss is gunned down. When Arkady Renko winds up with a cache of Tatiana’s tapes and a notebook filled with pages of word-pictures he can’t understand, he’s sucked into an investigation that nobody wants or authorizes of a death officially deemed an suicide. Unraveling the mystery carries him from Moscow to Khaliningrad and offers a fascinating look at contemporary Russia and some really scary bad guys.

Aug 202016


By Colum McCann

Three Stars

Read June 2014

TransAtlantic is less a novel than a series of loosely-related short stories spanning 150 years in the connections between Ireland and America. American readers who are not well-versed in Irish history may not find much that interests them here beyond McCann’s often wonderful language because that knowledge may be essential to “get” the connections explored in the stories. The novel includes historical figures, including American abolitionist and freed slave Frederick Douglass, former U.S. Senator and peace negotiator George Mitchell, and the aviators who made the first transAtlantic flight. Their visits to Ireland are threaded together by the stories of four generations of Irish women who move between Ireland and the United States, leading hard lives that are tragic in their own ways. However, for me end those stories didn’t really add up to a clear emotional payoff in the end but instead left me with the same bittersweet melancholy of the individual parts.