There's this concept in fantasy writing, world-building? Sci-fi too. It's pretty self-explanatory: because these books are not taking place in our universe, it's up to the author to give us all the details -- to paint the picture, provide shading in just the right places, ensure we can tell what we are supposed to be looking at. Economics, politics, interpersonal relations, language, gender roles, humor... This can be done well, emphasizing just here and embellishing just there, so the empty spaces also fill in the canvas. Or it can be done poorly, cramming in everything, and we wind up with Where's Waldo, and no one can figure out what the hell is happening. Martin Cruz Smith is a really good world-builder. I mean, he's writing about a real place, but it doesn't exist anymore, as such, so I don't think that makes his job any easier. Granted, I have no idea what life was like in the Soviet Union in the early '80s, and maybe the author didn't either. But this is a fully realized world, a backdrop that adds a great deal of freshness to yet another twisty detective thriller. Part of the reason Stieg Larsson books created a new genre in the U.S. (well, sort of -- the Swedish location-specific murder genre) are his weirdly obsessive descriptions of the Swedish landscape, which gave readers something to focus on while Lisbeth was shopping at Ikea. Here, the sense of place is as compelling (with weather as miserable); the plot and writing, a lot better.Arkady Renko is a great character. He knows how the system works, sees no problem in "losing" the files on a few murder cases to keep the crime rate low and the politicians happy. Yet he refuses to follow the party line, pisses off the wrong people, follows leads when he has no vested interest, not even a strong desire for justice. He just wants to be right. He is assigned to the case of three corpses found shot and mutilated in a famous park, and it seems like he keeps working on it for no reason other than the fact that it violated his personal sensibility that it's uncouth to murder people in a place where people come to relax, commiserate with friends, maybe do some ice skating.The plot is pretty complicated, as you'd expect, but the trappings (you'll see what I did there in a second) are pretty fun. Without giving too much away, everything ties into the international fur trade, and if Martin Cruz Smith is right, it's a bloody business. This is a Russian sable:This is a Russian sable fur coat:It costs about $150,000, and requires dozens of pelts. If you would wear this coat, you are an asshole. Same for a hat. Case in point:The tail-end gets a bit droopy -- Renko loses his shit and goes into a pity spiral, and there's all this mirroring of the ways the U.S. and Communist Russia are totally opposite but equally rotten, but then there's an intense final chase sequence that got me muttering at my iPod to hurry up and get it over with, so I guess that worked out. Otherwise, the female characters are no great shakes, but I've read a lot worse on that count.Some enterprising bookstore clerk needs to put this series on an endcap when the Dragon Tattoo movie comes out in December, because it is aching to be rediscovered.