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.
- Break the Cutie: Irina comes pre-broken by way of backstory. The murder of her friends doesn't make it any better for her.
- Cold War: Takes place in Moscow during the early 1980's, with the Cold War with the United States in the distant background.
- Crapsack World: The Soviet Union during the Cold War.
- 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.
- 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 Militsaya detectives are fond of a phrase that translates back to English as "Fuck your mother". 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.
- 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.
- HeelFace Turn: Pribluda frees Renko and helps him escape from the KGB.
- 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.
- Interservice Rivalry: Chief Investigator Renko of the Militsaya 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 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.
- It's Personal: The reason for Detective Kirwill's involvement.
- 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: 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 Russian: In the film version, all Russians speak in British accents (ranging from RP to Cockney) - that includes (the American native) William Hurt's character. American characters, on the other hand, use their natural accents.
- Russian Guy Suffers Most: Renko, naturally. Not that most of the other characters do so well by the end either.
- Scaramanga Special: See Ikea Weaponry above. It's more this trope than Ikea Weaponry.
- Scars Are Forever: 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.
- 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 unglamorous career as a cop.