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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Stalin's Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith

Here are just a few moments at the beginning of the novel that made me laugh or smile in admiration at the skill of the author.

A woman is trying to contract the killing of her husband and offers a warning to the would-be assassins:
“He’s very strong,” she said.
“No, he’ll just be heavy,” Victor assured her.

A mass grave has been discovered beneath the courthouse in Moscow:
Gleb asked, “What if the grave runs under the entire court?”
“That’s always the problem, isn’t it? Once you start digging, when to stop?”

Arkady is talking with a grumpy, old chess master:
Platonov scratched his chin. “You’re in the prosecutor’s office, aren’t you? Well, intelligence isn’t everything.”
“Thank God,” Arkady said.

Considering his boss in the prosecutor's office:
He didn’t believe Zurin would stab him in the back, although the prosecutor might show someone else where the knife drawer was.

Arkady held up his ID for all to see and announced, “Filming in the Metro is prohibited. Also this gathering is delaying the scheduled cleaning and maintenance of the Metro, putting the public safety at risk. It’s now over. Go home.”
Zelensky said, “I don’t see any cleaning women or maintenance men.”
“A schedule is a schedule.”
(Arkady is as Soviet as the best of them at times)

Martin Cruz Smith’s description of a speed chess tournament (called a blitz) is absolutely the finest writing about the game that I have ever come across. Movies try to make chess exciting by having players hurl pieces around the board and slam the clock after moves but this chapter in the book is positively thrilling. It is truly a masterpiece of writing.

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