The Siberian Dilemma is a Dilemma

The Siberian Dilemma is the ninth Arkday Renko thriller by Martin Cruz Smith. I realized I’ve only read two: Gorky Park, something of a classic, and Havana Bay. I suspect this book would have more resonance if I’d read others, particularly its immediate predecessor, Tatiana, since Tatiana plays a major role in this one.

I was thrilled by this thriller in spots, but I wasn’t convinced. Arkady’s trek into Siberia seemed riddled with coincidences, and the final twist at the end felt random. On the other hand, the prose was lovely and Smith’s descriptions of a landscape I’ve only seen in movies was vivid and chilling.

On the other other hand, there was the character of Bolot, which makes me ready to forgive nearly everything that dissatisfied me. Bolot introduces himself to Arkady on the flight to Irkutsk. He offers his services as a factotum. And what a factotum he is! He develops (or is revealed) from a glad-handing fast talker to a hunter and woodsman, loyal, inventive, resourceful… and a shaman.

The titular “Siberian Dilemma” is explained to us in the last third of the book, and demonstrated in its last few pages–an ending that seemed a bit too coincidental.

People who have read the others will like this more than I did, because Arkady is still the rebel, the thorn in the sides of the establishment. I’m glad I read it, mostly for Bolot. It reminds me what good stylist Smith is.

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