Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

When I was in my twenties, millions of years ago, my old Uncle Arthur used to write regularly to my mother from the aged care home he was in. Every letter began:

Just a short note to let you know I’m still alive.

This is what this is, I’m afraid. I’ve been struggling to produce 80,000 words of the 1st draft of the sequel to the Mullumbimby novel I’m putting out on Smashwords and Amazon late this year. (My thinking goes like this: After I put the first Mullum novel out, so many people will write telling me how much they hate it that I won’t have the heart to do the first draft of a sequel after that. So I’m doing it now.) As of today, I’m up to 74,609 words (not that I’m counting), and feel safe to lift my head just sufficiently to say, like Uncle Arthur, that I’m still alive.

So here you are, you few, you happy few, you band of brothers (and sisters). It’s all I can manage. It first appeared in the February edition of a little A4 newspaper that comes out of the hills west of Mullumbimby.



When people speak of bestselling author Martin Cruz Smith, they invariably mention Gorky Park, the first Arkady Renko novel, later a 1983 film starring William Hurt. Cruz Smith wrote other Renko novels: Polar Star, Havana Bay, Three Stations, but Wolves Eat Dogs, published 2004, is the pick of them all.

Famous New Russian Pasha Ivanov appears to have committed suicide by throwing himself through the window of his palatial, 10th floor apartment in Moscow. But is it suicide? Chief prosecutor Zurin wants to treat it as such. Arkady Renko, senior investigator in Zurin’s office, isn’t sure. When a search of the dead man’s apartment reveals a hill of salt in his clothes closet, despite the fact the high-security apartment’s staff swears there’s been no breach in security, he’s even more convinced something’s amiss.

Zurin orders Renko to close the file. But then, Ivanov’s NoviRus successor is found murdered at the entrance to the cemetery in Pripyat, a small village inside the Zone of Exclusion near Chernobyl. To keep the Ukrainian authorities happy, and to get rid of Renko, who won’t give up on the Ivanov case, Zurin sends Renko to Chernobyl.

Here, in the Zone of Exclusion, the radiation levels are 65 times normal; observation scientists work one month on, one month off, and many of the zone’s elderly inhabitants have returned secretly to live out the rest of their lives in the black villages around the reactor, growing their own vegetables, keeping pigs and cows as they’ve always done — they find it preferable to living out their days in a one-room basement apartment in Kiev.

After Renko arrives in the Zone, the novel really takes off, and Cruz Smith produces some of the best writing I’ve read in the crime/mystery genre. He gives a gut wrenching description of the last hours of Chernobyl’s doomed Reactor Four and of the errors in judgment that fed the disaster, and his evocation of the abandoned city of Pripyat, even closer to the reactors than Chernobyl, is haunting.

Chernobyl’s dark legacy will remain for 50,000 years, and its actual cost in human misery can never be accurately determined. As Cruz Smith says, ‘It depends on who’s counting’. Estimates vary from 41 dead (the Russians) to one million people adversely affected by radiation; the wind blew from Chernobyl to Kiev on May Day, five days after the disaster, yet the May Day march involving over 100,000, many of them schoolchildren, was not abandoned.

The novel’s odd and perhaps off-putting title is explained in the book’s following exchange:

‘Do any of you have dogs?’ [Arkady asked some of the women in a black village.]

‘No dogs,’ Klara said.

‘Wolves eat dogs,’ said Nina.

Don’t let the title put you off. It’s what Susan Geason, creator of the Australian Syd Fish detective series once described as ‘a real gem’.


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