Monday, February 22, 2010

Irina: Lost, Found, and Lost Again

Over the past two months, I've been reading quite a lot of books, including Clapton: The Autobiography, Conversations with Tom Petty, and Hollywood Animal.

But by far, the majority of my recent reading has focused on mystery novels. For a few weeks, I read Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels almost exclusively (I read twelve in total). I only realized after the fact that I began reading these books around the time of Parker's death. I had seen his name displayed prominently on many book spines at my local library for years, but I only read his work recently.

Since then, I have moved on to the writing of Martin Cruz Smith and his novels featuring Arkady Renko. Years ago, I had seen the film adaptation of Gorky Park (the first Renko novel), which I remember enjoying quite a bit. My library just purchased a new edition of this book, and it was a fantastic read. (For anyone who hasn't read these books, there is a spoiler ahead.)

Although Gorky Park is an excellent mystery/thriller, the third novel in the Renko series, Red Square, affected my much more profoundly. At the end of the first book, Renko's relationship with his new-found love, Irina Asanova, is very much in doubt. Renko has a chance to meet Irina again and reconcile during the course of Red Square, only after enduring the pain of realizing that he has been stuck in the past, only after seeing the discrepancy between his concept of their relationship and the reality. This is a position I have been in, convinced that some of my past relationships have been more important than they really were.

Needless to say, it was Renko's struggle to regain Irina's favor that made Red Square so compelling for me. At times, Renko's emotional turmoil is heart-wrenching and heartbreak threatens constantly, resulting in a book that is difficult to put down but is also difficult to continue reading. How happy was I that Irina and Renko were together again at the end! It seemed to justify the wild ups and downs of their shared experience.

So...when I discovered how cheaply Irina was discarded in the following novel, Havana Bay, I felt disappointed and angry. We learn that after having our heartstrings yanked in response to their relationship, Irina and Renko married, then she died from a medical mishap. Having invested my emotions in these characters, I thought maybe I could read at least one book in which they had a happy relationship, even if the rest of the world was transformed to shit. Perhaps Martin Cruz Smith did not want a constant companion for his detective; Spenser has Susan Silverman, but Arkady Renko is certainly a loner compared to Spenser. Perhaps depression and tragedy are more appropriate for a Russian detective, who can say?

I look forward to finishing Havana Bay and reading the other Renko novels (Wolves Eat Dogs and Stalin's Ghost), since Renko is a complex, likable detective, but I must admit my disappointment at being refused the opportunity to experience more of his life with Irina.

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