Ex-Chief Investigator Arkady Renko is in deep on the “slime line” - the fish-gutting station - in the Polar Star, a Soviet fish factory ship of some 250 souls, almost as many secrets, and a dangerous shipboard sub-culture that cares little for the Party, and less for human life.
©1989 Martin Cruz Smith (P)1990 Recorded Books, LLC
I should try to restrain my praise for Polar Star, but I can't, so I won't. Martin Cruz Smith has written a book so fine, with characters so vivid, a reality so fully lived and a plot so clever that you truly are caught up in this world, the Bering Sea, and a "fish factory ship" in which Arkady Renko slaves on the "slime line." If you haven't read a Martin Cruz Smith book, you are in for a treat, and this one is narrated by the greatest reader who ever lived. I first heard Polar Star about ten years ago, and I listen to it every two or three years. Frank Muller had skills that other narrators can only dream of. He was a classically trained actor. His range of voices was stupendous. Renko is one of the most human of any fictional characters ever created. He is a disgraced Moscow homicide detective. He holds on to his humanity in spite of the efforts of the Communist rulers of Russia to degrade him. The first book in this series, Gorky Park, was made into a movie starring William Hurt as Renko and Lee Marvin, one of the best Hollywood bad guys, as the villain. Polar Star could also be made into a movie. There are so many cinematic scenes that you want to cast them yourself. The climax of the book (I will not spoil it) is a whiteout chase on the ice which I believe you will never forget. The closing image still stuns me. Get ready for Polar Star: once you start listening, you truly will not want to stop. Trust me.
Actor/director/teacher. Split my time between Beijing and Seattle now. Listen to Audible on the subway and while driving. Love the reviews.
I tell my acting students that they pass people on the street every day who are as extraordinary and unbelievable as anyone they will play on stage--they just can't see behind the masks. M.C.Smith's books, as carefully plotted as they are, are not about plot. They are, rather, about revealing the desperation, the depravity, the courage and sometimes even the nobility lurking behind the banal masks worn by everyone in a uniformly grey society. Often the worst and the best even co-exist, unsuspected, in the same person. His characters act in ways we never expect, and when they do, our eyes go wide with recognition as their hidden purposes and obsessions become apparent. Not plot but a rich stew of competing and sometimes deadly motives gives his tales their extraordinary power, and at the center is Renko whose only uncompromising motive is the simplist and most dangerous of all--to find the truth.
Smith's other great strength is the evocation of locale. The white domain of deadly cold which he gives us in Polar Star provides constant intersections of breathtaking beauty and unforgiving peril which the author uses to spine chilling effect during Renko's frequent brushes with death. In almost every instance, numbing cold or intense fire or both play their part in vivid detail.
Happily, the author's mastery of character and locale are matched by Frank Muller's marvelous voice which brings it all into audible presence, understating but never neglecting a nuance, creating the white world and the grey cast of characters and the suppressed desperation with a bone true reading.
This book gains momentum slowly but rewards the reader with extaordinary tension and some action sequences which you will likely not forget. I recommend it very highly.
Polar Star is one of the best audiobooks I have listened to this year. The story is set on a factory ship that is part of a Soviet-American enterprise to fish in America's Aleutian waters. Followed by American "catcher" ships, the Polar Star seems to symbolize a new kind of international partnership. A murder takes place. Arkady, banished from Moscow and bowed by his circumstances as a worker on the "slime line", is called upon to investigate the murder. Martin Cruz Smith is a wonderful writer: I could see the "gelatinous ice" and swirling fog; I could feel the cold beyond cold. Such hard, cruelly cold work and so many undercurrents - passion, espionage, desperation. The characters in the book are fully formed: the workers all banished, for various reasons, to a job that will feed the Soviet Union or hide them from their pursuers. Frank Muller is fabulous. This is a great book and I can't recommend it highly enough.
I love all the Martin Cruz Smith/Arkady Renko novels. Smith captures the Russian mentality like no other Western author. The mix of a mystery story plus accurate historical details about Soviet life in "Polar Star" is immensely interesting. And, the narration was perfect.
John Christmas, author of "Democracy Society"
Blind Vietnam veteran. Antique weapons collector. Outdoor enthusiast. Florida State University graduate with Business major. Owner of home health agency. registered nurse.
The author paints a microcosmic view of soviet life in the latter part of the twentieth century.
A great mystery in a great setting.
This was a great listen. My only disappointment is that I discovered that this was NOT book one of Arkady Renko's adventures. So I downloaded "Gorky Park" and I am going to enjoy Renko from the beginning. Frank Muller does an excellent narration.
This was my first Martin Cruz Smith audiobook. I read a review for Polar Star that called it "The Best Audiobook Ever." I'm going to stop short of that, but not by much. Polar Star is a near perfect blend of smelly, moody melodrama and intrigue pushed forward by Frank Muller's absolutely brilliant narration. This book grabbed me from the start and didn't let go.
Interesting story, nice details of characters and intriguing interactions among them, but sometimes felt too "hollywood" for me in the way the author resolved situations he had so carefully set up
The chief problem, so far as I was concerned, is that the murder victim is a complete cypher; the reader has no relationship with her whatsoever. What this leads to is a sense where I truly lost interest in the "whodunit" aspect ... I essentially didn't care who killed her.
It was boring. The main character wanders around trying to solve the mystery that none of the other characters care about, and don't want to investigate. For most of the book, the protagonist doesn't care who did it.By about a third of the story, I didn't care who did it.
None of them. But Muller's performance was still the best part of a bad effort.
The setting was interesting, and the bleakness of the arctic circle complemented the Soviet state and the desperation of the characters. Except for Muller, that's it.
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