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Literature / Gorky Park

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Gorky Park is a mystery novel published in 1981 and written by Martin Cruz Smith. A Film of the Book, directed by Michael Apted and starring William Hurt, Lee Marvin, Brian Dennehy, Joanna Pacuła, Richard Griffiths, and Ian McDiarmid, was released in 1983.

Arkady Renko, a Chief Investigator with the Militsiya, finds himself investigating a gruesome crime scene in one of Moscow's most popular parks: Two men and a woman, shot dead, with their fingertips cut off and their faces disfigured to prevent identification. It isn't long before a team from the KGB become involved, led by Major Pribluda, a long-time thorn in Renko's side. The mystery only gets deeper from there with the added involvement of an American sable importer, a Russian political dissident, an NYPD Detective, and more than a few of Renko's superiors in Moscow.

Arkady would go on to be the protagonist of several more novels, even as the Soviet Union collapsed and The New Russia came into being.


  • Adaptation Distillation: The movie cuts out quite a bit (Renko's wife, the FBI Agents, his father's appearance, the asylum, the visit to America etc.)
  • And Starring: The film onesheet (above) clearly invokes Roger Ebert's Box Rule, although - contrary to said Rule - it avoided the stereotypes of the 1970s genre of such movies, and was well-received by critics.
  • Animal Lover: Downplayed, but early in the book Renko mentions disliking circuses because of cruelty towards baboons. He later chooses to free the sables instead of killing them.
  • Big Brother Is Watching You: Various characters are shown turning the rotary dial of their desk telephone only once, then sticking a pen in the dial to hold it in that position, to stop the KGB using the landline as a listening device.
  • Break the Cutie: Irina comes pre-broken by way of backstory. The murder of her friends doesn't make it any better for her.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Kirwill describes his brother as just wanting to help someone, anyone, escape the Soviet Union.
  • The Coroner: The perceptive, sardonic Dr. Levin. A highly-placed consultant until an outbreak of Kremlin anti-semitism, it is hinted that his post as the Moscow Milita's pathologist is an official - if grudging - restitution.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Osborne, who is willing to smuggle and kill to smuggle out sables and break a fur monopoly.
  • Cowboy Cop: Kirwill goes to the Soviet Union hunting the killer of his brother, and Renko is prepared to violate the rules, attacking KGB agents and such in the pursuit of the solution.
  • Crapsack World: The Soviet Union during the Cold War.
  • Da Chief: Prosecutor Iamskoy, who offers Renko support while having motives of his own.
  • Dead Partner: Pasha lasts longer than most version (dying at just over an hour into the movie) but his death has this affect on Renko.
  • Defective Detective: Renko is a workaholic, very cynical (especially in regards towards the Communist Party and their declarations), and is a chain smoker.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Irina stays in the USA while Arkady returns to the USSR.
  • Double-Meaning Title: A trademark of the Arkady Renko series of books. In this case, Gorky Park refers both to the name of the park that the three bodies are found in, and the name of the asylum that Renko is held at for the last part of the book.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Despite his major role, Kirwill is Killed Offscreen, immediately after a scene where he'd appeared alive and well.
  • Drunk Rolling: When Renko is looking up past firearms offenses, one of the cases he comes across is a youth who used a wooden replica of a pistol to rob a drunk. Drunks getting robbed would also show up from time to time in the sequels; not surprising, considering that most of the books take place in the Soviet Union and Russian Federation.
  • Face Death with Dignity: In the movie Iamskoy looks calm as he backs up with a bullet wound to his chest and then drops dead.
  • Fell Down The Stairs: Renko and Pasha evokes this when they threaten to throw a KGB informer they need information from out the window, and mockingly ask him why he's trying to escape.
  • Fingerprinting Air: Averted: Renko and Detective Kirwill are dusting a woodshop for fingerprints. Another character points out a pile of rags that they missed, and both detectives dismiss them as being impossible to lift prints from.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: Averted due to the Translation Convention, but the Militsya detectives are fond of a phrase that translates back to English as "Fuck your mother" (transliterates as "Tvoyu Mat"). After the third or fifth utterance of this phrase between two friends, the narrator stops to clarify that they aren't actually referring to each other's mothers, but rather are using a phrase not unlike the English "Son of a bitch!" to express exasperation.
    • When Kirwill actually says "Son of a bitch" instead of this, Renko knows at once he isn't Russian, in spite of his perfect command of the language: right language, wrong idiom (Kirwill says it in English in the book).
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Renko's wife is having an affair behind his back, and she works with her lover to manipulate him into looking like a huge asshole to justify her leaving him. Meanwhile Arkady ends up falling in love with a witness in his investigation.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Renko does not get why Osborne values gaining more money over human life, especially since he's already very wealthy.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Pribluda frees Renko and helps him escape from the KGB.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Iamskoy urging Renko to investigate the case in order to extort Osborne leads to his downfall, something he seems to realize.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Renko goes back to Russia, partially because he doesn't find America to be any better, and mostly to protect Irina.
  • I Reject Your Reality: Irina takes a lot of convincing that her friends are really dead, at first thinking Renko is just trying to trap her for the KGB, then just clinging to the illusion to avoid the alternative.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Chief Investigator Renko of the Militsiya and Major Pribluda of the KGB are trying to outflank each other at every turn in the investigation of the triple-homicide, Renko trying furiously to keep the KGB from taking the case. Subverted because when he first saw what he was dealing with, he was doing everything he could to get the KGB to take the case away from him because it looked like way more trouble than it could possibly be worth. He only changes his mind when he begins to suspect that Pribluda might not have been directly involved.
  • Ikea Weaponry: The gun that Renko finds in Kirwill's luggage. He only thinks to look for it because of the odd selection of things that the traveler chose to pack.
  • Internal Reformist: Iamskoy tells Renko that they must be patient and build up their political capital while letting the KGB weaken, in order make the Soviet Union what it once was. That he's a corrupt liar is unsurprising, but a bit disappointing.
  • It's Personal: The reason for Detective Kirwill's involvement.
  • Klatchian Coffee: In the book, Arkady escapes a citywide manhunt by boarding a train full of 3-year contract laborers; noting that the other passengers would probably rob him and possibly kill him if he falls asleep, he drinks chifir, a super-concentrated form of tea, to stay awake the whole time.
  • The Mentally Disturbed:
    • Arkady is diagnosed in the book's final act as a sufferer of Pathoheterodoxy Syndrome, explaining his behavior earlier in the book. Mind you, he's diagnosed by a KGB agent; Renko is perfectly sane, but the mental treatment laws in the USSR treated every dissident as mentally disturbed, as they certainly had to be crazy to oppose the glorious worker's paradise.
    • Part of Irina's backstory is that she too was diagnosed as mentally ill and medicated because of her being a political dissident.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Renko ends up traveling to America for part of the book. He finds America to be just as corrupt as the Soviet Union, albeit in different ways.
  • Playing Both Sides: Osborne informs for both the KGB and FBI.
  • The Queen's Latin: In the film version, all Russians speak in British accents (ranging from RP to Cockney) - that includes (the American native) William Hurt's character.note  The odd one out is Irina, who has her actor's native Polish accent. American characters, on the other hand, use their natural accents.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: James Horner's music recycles elements from his 48 Hrs. score.
  • Russian Bear: Discussed in Polar Star. The protagonist notes that, while foreigners often picture Russians as lumbering bears, Russian men often think of themselves as wolves.
  • Russian Guy Suffers Most: Renko, naturally. Not that most of the other characters do so well by the end either.
  • Scaramanga Special: Renko realizes that some of the seemingly innocuous things in Kirwill's luggage are actually parts of a gun. The hand grip for a camera is the gun's grip. One of the toilet paper rolls has a plastic tube, which is the silencer. A metal container for an artist's knife (itself unusual because Kirwill is ostensibly a businessman, not an artist) is the barrel, and the plunger in said tube has a little spike inside it for priming bullets, forming the striker. An odd metal bar hidden amongst a can opener and cork screw is the trigger, and it latches on the plunger. The bullets are hidden inside golden cases for a pen and pencil; this also prevents the bullets from being detected by x-ray machines.
  • Scars Are Forever: In the book, Irina has a blemish on her face and is blind in one eye, caused by a tumor that developed as a result of a deliberate bad drug injection the KGB doctor gave her.
    • It actually looks like a birth mark and does not detract from her beauty. The blindness in one eye, however, is not a good thing.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Osborne. Because he informed for the KGB, he has them in the USSR. Because he also informed for the FBI, he also has them in the USA.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Osborne again.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: For the Soviet hierarchy bent on maintaining their monopoly on sable fur. Despite all their machinations to kill Osborne and everyone involved in the trade Renko learns about the six additional sables Osborne smuggled and he releases them from their cages in Sweden before returning to Russia, thereby all but assuring they will breed and flourish outside Soviet control and their furs will be available to Europe at large.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: For American audiences, at least, has shades of this; the New York segment of the book has a Soviet detective making observations about aspects of American life.
  • Token Good Cop: Chief Investigator Renko recognizes the flaws of the Soviet system and is a conscientious investigator, both traits that make him the exception rather than the rule (of his three allies in the Moscow Militia, one is murdered about a third of the way through the film and the others are a lot less nice than they appear).
  • Tour Guide Detective: The book gives the audience a look into everyday life in Brezhnev-era Moscow. Later books in the series would explore other locations, from a Perestroika-era fishing ship in the Pacific Ocean to post-reunification Munich and Berlin to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: When Renko was a young boy, he unwittingly helped his mother commit suicide by helping her collect rocks that she later used to drown herself.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Renko's father is bitter that Arkady did not follow his father's example by joining the Red Army, or at least pursuing a career in the Communist Party, instead settling for an nonglamorous career as a cop.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Irina continuously points out that Renko could be lying about everything with some Engineered Heroics to earn her trust. He isn't, but the idea isn't too far-fetched.
  • You Killed My Father: Kirwill's brother was murdered and he is determined to get revenge.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Arkady Renko


Gorky Park ending

Renko chooses to free the sables instead of killing them.

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