Polar Star: A Novel by Martin Cruz SmithPolar Star: A Novel by Martin Cruz Smith

Polar Star: A Novel

byMartin Cruz Smith

Paperback | June 12, 2007

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He made too many enemies. He lost his party membership. Once Moscow’s top criminal investigator, Arkady Renko now toils in obscurity on a Russian factory ship working with American trawlers in the middle of the Bering Sea. But when an adventurous female crew member is picked up dead with the day’s catch, Renko is ordered by his captain to investigate an accident that has all the marks of murder. Up against the celebrated Soviet bureaucracy once more, Renko must again become the obsessed, dedicated cop he was in Gorky Park and solve a chilling mystery fraught with international complications.

Praise for Polar Star

“Stunning.”The New York Times Book Review

“Impossible to put down . . . a book of heart-stopping suspense and intricate plotting, but also a meticulously researched, ambitious literary work of great distinction.”—The Detroit News

“Martin Cruz Smith writes the most inventive thrillers of anyone in the first rank of thriller writers.”—The Washington Post Book World

“Gripping . . . absorbing.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
Martin Cruz Smith’s novels include Gorky Park, Stallion Gate, Polar Star, Stalin’s Ghost, Rose, December 6, Tatiana, and The Girl from Venice. He is a two-time winner of the Hammett Prize, a recipient of Britain’s Golden Dagger Award, and a winner of the Premio Piemonte Giallo Internazionale. He lives in California.
Title:Polar Star: A NovelFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:400 pages, 7.94 × 5.13 × 0.9 inShipping dimensions:7.94 × 5.13 × 0.9 inPublished:June 12, 2007Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345498178

ISBN - 13:9780345498175


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Literally chilling. possibly the best Renko novel I enjoy Smith's novels enormously. Of the Renko series, there is not only the great fun of watching Renko battle both the bad guys and the government, but excellent settings and atmosphere. It is Polar Star that, set in arctic seas, brings a magnificent and literally chilling atmosphere on board a fishing factory ship to life. You might not think that such a limited setting would produce more than an ordinary mystery, but you may be pleasantly surprised by the novel. You may be unable to read this book in a cold room. As is Renko's forte, he overcomes the resistance of both the local bosses and the "bad guys" to unravel a fascinating situation.
Date published: 2015-02-13

Read from the Book

1   Like a beast, the net came steaming up the ramp and into the sodium lamps of the trawl deck. Like a gleaming pelt, mats of red, blue, orange strips covered the mesh: plastic “chafing hair” designed to ease the net’s way over the rocks of the sea bottom. Like rank breath, the exhalation of the sea’s cold enveloped the hair in a halo of its own colors, brilliant in the weepy night.   Water hissed from the net’s plastic hair onto the wooden boards that provided footing on the deck. Smaller fish, smelts and herring, fell free. Starfish dropped like stones. Uprooted crabs, even dead, landed on tiptoe. Overhead, gulls and shearwaters hovered at the outer glow of the lamps. As the wind shifted the birds broke into a swirl of white wings.   Usually the net was tipped and disgorged headfirst into the forward chutes to begin with, then ass-end into the rear. Either end could be opened by releasing the knot of a “zipper,” a nylon cord braided through the mesh. Though the men stood by with shovels ready for work, the trawlmaster waved them off and stepped into the water raining from the net’s plastic hair and stared straight up, removing his helmet the better to see. The colored strips dripped like running paint. He reached and spread the hair from the mesh, then looked into the dark to find the other, smaller light riding the ocean swells, but already fog hid the catcher boat the net had come from. From his belt the trawlmaster took a double-edged knife, reached through the dripping plastic hair and sawed the belly of the net down and across. Fish began dropping by ones and twos. He gave the knife a last furious tug and stepped back quickly.   Out of the net and into the light spilled a flood of silver pollack, a whole school that had been caught en masse and dredged up like bright coins. There were thick, bruised-looking bullheads; overlapping waves of flatfish, blood-red on the eyed side, pale on the blind side; sculpin with heads like dragons; cod, some bloated like balloons by their air bladders, some exploded into soft tissue and pink slime; coral crabs as hairy as tarantulas. The bounty of the night sea.   And a girl. She slid loose-limbed like a swimmer as the fish poured from the net. On the deck she rolled lazily, arms awry, against a mound of sole, a bare foot tangled in crabs. A young woman, not a girl. Her hair was short and her blouse and jeans were sodden and twisted, heavy with water and sand, unprepared for any return to the world of air. The trawlmaster lifted a strand of hair that had wrapped itself across her eyes, revealing the open surprise in them, as if the ship’s lamplit fog were golden clouds, as if she had risen in a boat sailing toward heaven itself.   2   Originally when it came down the rails in Gdansk, the Polar Star’s four superstructures had been a dazzling white and the gantries and booms a candy-yellow. The decks were clear; silver chains wound round the winches; the facing on the deckhouses was stylishly raked. In fact, the Polar Star had looked like a ship.   Twenty years of salt water had repainted it with rust. The top decks had accumulated wooden planks, full barrels of lubricating oil and empty barrels for fish oil, the refuse of piled nets and floats. From the black stack with its red Soviet band drifted the dark smoke of a diesel in poor condition. Now, seen from a distance with a good view of the hull battered by unloading side trawlers in bad weather, the Polar Star resembled not so much a factory ship as a combination factory and junkyard cast into the sea and making improbable headway through the waves.   Yet day and night the Polar Star efficiently caught fish. Not caught, that was wrong; smaller trawlers caught the fish and transferred their nets to the factory ship to be processed: headed, gutted, frozen.   For four months now the Polar Star had followed American catcher boats in American waters from Siberia to Alaska, from the Bering Strait to the Aleutian Islands. It was a joint venture. Simply put, the Soviets provided processing ships and took the fish, while the Americans provided trawlers and translators and took the money, all of this managed by a Seattle-based company that was half Soviet, half American. The crew of the Polar Star had seen the sun perhaps two days in that time, but then the Bering Sea was known as the Gray Zone.   Third Mate Slava Bukovsky walked the processing line while workers sorted the catch: pollack on a conveyor belt to the saws, mackerel and rays into the fish-meal hatch. Some of the fish had literally exploded as their air bladders expanded on the way from the bottom of the sea, and soft bits of them clung like mucus to caps, oilskin aprons, lashes, lips.   He passed the rotary saws to the “slime line,” where workers stood in slots on either side of the belt. Like automatons, the first pair slit fish bellies open to the anus; the second pair sucked out livers and guts with vacuum hoses; the third pair washed slime from the skin, gills and cavities with saltwater jets; the last pair vacuumed the fish a final time and laid the trimmed and dressed result on a belt moving toward the freezers. In the course of an eight-hour watch the gutting and spraying spread a mist of blood and wet pulp over the belt, workers and walkway. They were not the usual Hero Workers, least of all the lean, pale man with dark hair loading the dressed fish at the end of the line.   “Renko!”   Arkady vacuumed pinkish water from one eviscerated belly, slapped the fish on the freezer belt and picked up the next. Pollack was not firm-fleshed. If it wasn’t cleaned and frozen quickly, it would be unfit for human consumption and be fed to minks; if unfit for them, it would go to Africa as foreign aid. His hands were numb from handling fish little warmer than ice, but at least he wasn’t working the saw like Kolya. In bad weather when the ship began to roll it took concentration to handle a frozen, slippery pollack around a blade. Arkady had learned to dig the toes of his boots under the table so that he wouldn’t slide on the duckboards. At the beginning of the voyage and at the end, the entire factory was hosed down and scrubbed with ammonia, but meanwhile the fish room had a dank organic slickness and smell. Even the clicking of the belt, the whining of the saw, the deep rhythmic moan of the hull were the sounds of a leviathan that was resolutely swallowing the sea.   The belt stopped.   “You’re Seaman Renko, aren’t you?”   It took Arkady a moment to recognize the third mate, who was not a frequent visitor belowdecks. Izrail, the factory manager, stood at the power switch. He wore layers of sweaters and a black stubble almost to his eyes, which rolled with impatience. Natasha Chaikovskaya, a huge young woman in oilskin armor but with a feminine touch of lipstick, listed discreetly, better to see the third mate’s Reeboks and unstained jeans.   “Aren’t you?” Slava repeated.   “It’s not a secret,” Arkady said.   “This is not a dance class of Young Pioneers,” Izrail told Slava. “If you want him, take him.”   The belt started moving again as Arkady followed Slava aft, stepping over sluices where liquid slime and fish-liver oil ran through bilge holes directly out the side of the ship.   Slava stopped to scrutinize Arkady, as if trying to penetrate a disguise. “You are Renko the investigator?”   “Not anymore.”   “But you were,” Slava said. “That’s good enough.”   They climbed the stairs to the main deck. Arkady assumed the third mate was leading him to the political officer or to a search of his cabin, although that could have been done without him. They walked by the galley and the steamy smell of macaroni, turned left at a sign that exhorted INCREASE PRODUCTION IN THE AGRO-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX! STRIVE FOR A DECISIVE UPSWING IN THE SUPPLY OF FISH PROTEIN! and halted at the infirmary door.   The door was guarded by a pair of mechanics wearing the red armbands of Public Order Volunteers. Skiba and Slezko were two informers—“slugs” to the rest of the crew. Even as Arkady and Slava went through the door Skiba pulled out a notebook.   The Polar Star had a clinic bigger than most small towns could boast: a doctor’s office, an examining room, an infirmary with three beds, a quarantine room and an operating room, to which Slava led Arkady. Along the walls were white cupboards with glass canisters of instruments in alcohol, a locked red cupboard with cigarettes and drugs, a cart with a green tank of oxygen and a red tank of nitrous oxide, a standing ashtray and a brass spittoon. There were anatomical charts on the wall, an astringent tang to the air. A dentist’s chair sat in one corner. In the middle of the room was a steel operating table covered by a sheet. Soaked through, the cloth clung to the form of a woman underneath. Below the edge of the sheet dangled restraining straps.   The room’s portholes were bright mirrors because it was black outside—0600, another hour’s work to go before dawn. And as usual at this point in his shift Arkady was stupefied by the number of fish in the sea. His eyes felt like those portholes. “What do you want?” he asked.   “Someone has died,” Slava announced.   “I can see that.”   “One of the girls from the galley. She fell overboard.”   Arkady glanced at the door, picturing Skiba and Slezko on the other side. “What has this got to do with me?”   “It’s obvious. Our trade union committee must make a report on all deaths, and I am the union representative. You’re the only one on board with experience in violent death.”   “And resurrection,” Arkady said. Slava blinked. “It’s like rehabilitation, but it’s supposed to last longer. Never mind.” Arkady eyed the cigarettes inside the cabinet; they were papirosi, cardboard tubes with tobacco wads. But the cabinet was locked. “Where’s the doctor?”   “Look at the body.”   “Cigarette?”

Editorial Reviews

“Stunning.”The New York Times Book Review

“Impossible to put down . . . a book of heart-stopping suspense and intricate plotting, but also a meticulously researched, ambitious literary work of great distinction.”—The Detroit News

“Martin Cruz Smith writes the most inventive thrillers of anyone in the first rank of thriller writers.”—The Washington Post Book World

“Gripping . . . absorbing.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer