Independence Square by Martin Cruz Smith [6/10]

The tenth Arkady Renko novel in just over two decades, “Independence Square ” touches on the strengths and creeping weaknesses of this police procedural series that has always been much more than genre. Powered by an eagle-eyed, nimble style that reflects Renko’s persona of a weary, cynical Soviet-then-Russian cop, the pages of Independence Square flash past as we follow the mystery of a missing woman into Soviet-occupied Crimea in Ukraine. The author’s pithy capturing of the sights, sounds, smells, and zeitgeist of Russia remains as strong as ever. The dialogue hums. Yet one can’t help noticing how brusque recent Renko plotlines have been, nor how his jaded life has begun to feel a tad, just a fraction, formulaic. The early Renko novels packed enormous emotional wallops; recent outings fizz and then fizzle out. A must for completists, Independence Square is also an enjoyable, atmospheric dalliance in today’s hot-topic location, but newcomers to Martin Cruz Smith should hunt back to commence with Gorky Park.

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