Independence Square: Arkady Renko in Ukraine

Inspector Arkady Renko returns for a bullet-train ride of assassinations, propaganda, and Putin in Independence Square, the 10th installment of Martin Cruz Smith's iconic series. It is June 2021, and Renko has a boring desk assignment; is nursing a painful breakup with his journalist girlfriend, Tatiana; and finds his only respite at the chess tables in Gorky Park where his adopted son, Zhenya, plays for pocket money. When an acquaintance asks for help in locating his daughter, Karina, an anti-Putin activist who recently disappeared, Renko jumps at the chance to immerse himself in his work.

With trenchant observations of modern Russia veiled in Renko's trademark cynicism, Smith (The Girl from Venice; Tatiana) adds a real-life challenge for his character, one based on the author's own experience: an unexpected diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. Renko has no time for self-pity, however, as he and Karina's beautiful roommate, Elena, a Crimean Tatar and fellow activist, are caught up in the chaos of violent clashes between their anti-Putin group, called Forum for Democracy, and the Werewolves, an ultranationalist, pro-Putin motorcycle club. When a series of political assassinations follow, Renko realizes that he and Elena are about to line up in the Kremlin's crosshairs. Zig-zagging from Moscow to Kyiv and Sevastopol (and back again), Renko gets closer to the truth of Karina's disappearance and the identity of the assassin--just as Russia gears up for its invasion of Ukraine, "Stalin's Great Terror updated for modern times." Independence Square is a smart political thriller with zippy dialogue and a timely plot that checks all the boxes for Smith fans. --Peggy Kurkowski, book reviewer and copywriter in Denver

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