Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Havana Bay (Arkady Renko Series #4) by Martin Cruz Smith: A review

I've always enjoyed Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko series. I have read several of the books out of sequence and now I'm going back to pick up the ones I've missed. Thus, I came to read Havana Bay, the fourth in the series while on vacation last week. It was a good vacation read. Smith is a good writer who knows how to move a story along. He kept me interested and kept me turning pages.

This episode in the Renko saga takes Arkady out of Russia, which should be obvious from the title. It is the late '90s and the divorce between Cuba and Russia, formerly the Soviet Union, is just about final. Renko, the intrepid and cynical Moscow investigator, received an anonymous message from someone in Havana that his friend Pribluda, who was in Havana for some unknown reason, was in trouble and needed Arkady's help. Arkady drops everything and flies to Havana, only to learn that a body on an innertube has washed up in the bay and that the body is believed to be that of his friend.

Arkady is skeptical - Arkady is ALWAYS skeptical! - and he begins an investigation even though he is not authorized to do so. He meets Cuban investigator Ofelia Osorio who insists that Pribluda died of a heart attack while out on the bay fishing and there is nothing to investigate. Furthermore, both Ofelia and every other official that he meets seem to be of the opinion that the only good Russian is a dead Russian and so Pribluda is a very good Russian.

The body was in such a state when it was found that Arkady cannot even be sure that it is his friend. He tries to find a picture that will enable the pathologist, a certified genius, to check the bone structure against Pribluda's facial features to determine if, in fact, the body is Pribluda. But somebody seems to deeply resent Renko's searches and he appears to be in danger of losing his life before he discovers the solution to the mystery. What was Pribluda doing in Havana, and what is the Havana Yacht Club, anyway?

This was a fun read. Arkady Renko is a very appealing character and his relationship with his Cuban counterpart Ofelia makes for an interesting juxtaposition of investigative methods. Overall, the picture of Cuba is a society of strong people who make do with what they have and who are still devoted to their Revolution's heroes in spite of hardships.

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