Cruz Smith’s tenth Arkady Renko novel, Independence Square, moves us from the forests of Siberia in the previous book back to Moscow and as the subtitle says, to Ukraine. This is a book written about events happening now.
Renko is asked by someone he knows, Fyodor Abikov, to find his missing daughter, Karina. He is worried and although Renko is side lined to a desk job, he takes this case on privately. There are many dead bodies in the solving of this conundrum.
Karina is a member of an anti-Putin group known as Forum and plays in a string quartet. Her flatmate Elena also plays in the same quartet and sees her on television in Ukraine standing behind the Governor. Renko heads off to Kyiv with Elena to provide a plausible story in order to cross the boundary between the two countries. Once there they track her down and find out her reasons for disappearing. It’s just that neither of them believe her.
All of this takes place against the annexation of Crimea and Forum’s protests are hassled and beaten by members of the Werewolves, a biker gang that helped in the annexation and so are now untouchable. Smith is convincing in describing the ‘war’ Putin is fighting agaist and and all opponents.
Yes, Arkady thought, a war was exactly what it was, but a war against perceived as well as real, internal opponents and external enemies. It was Stalin’s Great Terror updated for modern times, with disinformation, legal machinations, indiscriminate violence. Bloodshed was a way of proving loyalty.p98
The story descends into a persecution of Tartars who had already been made homeless by the removal of them from Crimea.
This was how pogroms started, by marking out an enemy and ushering in violence.p218
Whilst we don’t have magic or folklore in this book as we did in the Siberian Dilemma, we do have dolphins guarding the waters of Crimea, preventing boats from leaving and I was so unsure about this that I googled it. It is true. They are trained for defence duties.
You couldn’t make it up!