With all ten of the leading candidates (finallY) on the same debate stage, the race to sit atop the Democratic ticket in 2020 enters a new phase.
Martin Cruz Smith does not receive a warm welcome at the airport when he visits Russia. His Arkady Renko series features a fictional Russian police investigator who has slipped from favor because he refused to join what Smith calls, “the conspiracy of duplicity.” The American author of “Gorky Park” has just written his eighth novel in the series. It’s based on the mysterious death of a real-life reporter who pursued stories on political corruption in Vladimir Putin’s government. Smith believes she was killed for doing so. Smith speaks with Diane about his latest novel, “Tatiana,” and why he worried it wouldn’t get written at all.
- Martin Cruz Smith Award-winning author of "Gorky Park" and "Tatiana"
Read an excerpt
From TATIANA by Martin Cruz Smith. Copyright © 2013 by Martin Cruz Smith. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. One reviewer of novelist, Martin Cruz Smith, says, if you want to understand Russia since the fall of the Berlin wall, you should read his crime fiction. Smith's latest novel "Tatiana" offers the perfect opportunity to start. It's based on the mysterious death of a real-life Russian journalist who defied Vladimir Putin with her aggressive reporting of Chechnya and political corruption. Martin Cruz Smith joins me.
MS. DIANE REHMYou are welcome as always to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us Facebook or Twitter. It's so good to meet you.
MR. MARTIN CRUZ SMITHThank you very much for having me.
REHMI'm delighted. Tell us first about the real life character on whom you based the journalist, Tatiana.
SMITHWell, Anna Politkovskaya was a -- she's been dead 10 years now since she was assassinated at her apartment house in Moscow, and she was a unique individual in that she positioned herself not only as an advocate for truth, but as also as someone who gave a fair ear to the Chechnyans, to their side of the story, and this was very hazardous in Yeltsin's Russia as well as Putin's. Of course, Putin has made crushing the Chechnyan rebels his raison d'etre.
SMITHSo anyway, she was a remarkable person. She covered subjects with an intrepidity that was astounding to everyone who knew her, and everyone who knew her warned her.
REHMI remember when she died, and it was under very curious circumstances.
SMITHWell, she's -- three men have been charged. One is the shooter, two is the accomplices. And generally what happens in this kind of case is that when there's an assassination there's an investigation and then some straw dogs, straw men are charged. They go to court, they're acquitted and then the investigation limps along. So that's what happened in her case, and three Chechnyans, related, have been charged and are indicted, and how long this comedy of errors goes on, no one can tell.
REHMHowever, in your novel "Tatiana," the journalist Tatiana is said to jump off her balcony in suicide with open problem, she screams.
SMITHYes. So I make the point that people who jump to their deaths voluntarily do not scream in protest. And this leads our Arkady onto a trail that he follows along with his cohort, Detective Victor Orlov, who is one of my favorite characters because he's such a terrible alcoholic.
REHMHe's totally alcoholic.
SMITHHe welcomes it.
REHMBut first tell us about Arkady.
SMITHArkady is man of indefinite age, of indefinite looks. A little bit -- which is way Gogol used to describes his characters like in "Dead Souls." But I describe him as little as possible, but what he's got is an incurable disease called seeking the truth, and this is the reason why he has never advanced in the prosecutor's investigation staff.
REHMBecause he goes against everybody who's trying to hide the truth.
SMITHHe's an embarrassment. He's an embarrassment who becomes an irritant, and then an irritant who becomes a target, and he's a wonderful guy to work with because he's really -- he's got a very deliciously dark sense of humor, he and Orlov, and he's intelligent, and I find this seeping into my own life, you know. If I find in a dilemma something I can't figure out, I say to myself, what would Arkady do?
SMITHAnd he seems to respond now and then. He says, well, you need to try this, you fool. And it works.
REHMWell, and in addition to the scream as Tatiana allegedly commits suicide, her body disappears.
SMITHI love the idea of musical chairs in a morgue. And, of course, there is that thing about Arkady. He's sort of drawn to the afflicted and to -- and injustice. And the idea that somebody is not even given a decent burial, even in a potter's field, sets him ill at ease would be one way to describe it.
REHMMartin Cruz Smith, how far back does Arkady Renko go, and when did he first emerge in your imagination?
SMITHWell, he first emerged in 1973 -- June 1973 I would have to say. Because I had gone to Moscow to research a book in which an American detective went to Moscow and -- with the purpose of showing the Russians how to run a real murder investigation. And I was -- and it was June of that year when I went there with that aim and realized there was such a bigger, more obvious, simple book to be done which was a book about a Russian hero in Russia. And, of course, he would be an anti-hero being Russian, but the idea that, you know, to do another American super hero showing another set of locals how things ought to be done, just seemed to me crazy and pointless.
SMITHSo I came back with -- and wrote a couple of hundred pages, showed it to my publisher who said, are you crazy? Americans are not going to like reading about a Russian hero. And I said, well, if you really feel that way, let me buy the book back from you. And he said, no. I insist on publishing the book. I can't do it with any enthusiasm, but I'll publish it anyway just to make this point.
REHMAnd the book was?
SMITHAnd so there's a certain, you know, not perverse pleasure, let's say delicious pleasure in having been proved right, having been challenged in such a personal way.
REHMWhy do you think people have taken to the idea of this Russian investigator who goes against everything that Russian under Putin or Yeltsin stands for?
SMITHI think it's a matter of Americans. Americans really do want to understand Russia, like the way Russians would understand America. There's a duality there in that relationship which is longstanding and strong. You know, the enigma is not Great Britain or France or Italy, it's Russia for us. And of course, for them, for Russians, America is not just this land of plutocrats and capitalists, but it's a great big opportunity. It's escape. It's a whole new life.
SMITHSo we have this -- both this -- not exactly the same kind of fascination, but definitely a mutual fascination which -- also we are the two great countries until China emerged -- we were the two great countries. Still are.
REHMSo for to help American readers and indeed readers all over the world begin to see how complex and how difficult it is to manage even a suicide with a scream and a disappeared body becomes real.
SMITHWell, it becomes very real because I -- I don't know. I don't know why I understand Arkady as well as I do, and quite often I sort of despair and say I'll never understand this man, but I feel like at this point I'm dealing with someone more flesh and blood than ink and paper.
REHMSomeone you know.
SMITHSomeone I know. I can hear his voice quite often now, even, you know, I can hear his sigh and I can hear his laugh. And I've got these -- now, this sort of family of other characters now, and most specifically a very ungrateful teenage boy.
SMITHZhenya, who is -- who now wants to have this -- he was a chess prodigy and a chess hustler.
REHMWhoa. Is he ever.
SMITHAnd he's a despicable boy in many ways.
SMITHBut he is in other ways endearing and needy.
REHMAnd brilliant. And brilliant.
SMITHAnd brilliant. And the fact that he, in the course of this book -- this book is very largely about different women. It's very much -- that's the secret of this particular book. It's about women. And the fact that even Zhenya encounters a woman who fancies him is very -- he's very much an echo of what happens with Arkady.
REHMAnd of course there is Anya.
SMITHYes. There is Anya who is Arkady's old girlfriend, a younger -- someone who is very fashionable and ought not to be attracted to Arkady at all, but...
REHMBut she is.
SMITHBut she is, and is desperate to make any, you know, to breach his defenses.
REHMMartin Cruz Smith, his new novel, an Arkady Renko novel, is titled "Tatiana." We'll take a short break here. When we come back, if you'd like to join us, that number is 800-433-8850. Send us an email, follow us Twitter, or Facebook.
REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, Martin Cruz Smith, the author of "Gorky Park" and "Stalin's Ghost," has a brand-new Arkady Renko novel. It's titled "Tatiana" and is just a wonderful blend of male and female searching both for the truth and for human attachment. Here's an email from Jonathon here in Washington, D.C. He says, "How is it that Martin Cruz Smith is so familiar with Russia's police procedure? Did he have access to police and other agencies? And what does he do now if he's unpopular with Russia's power elite?"
SMITHWell, right now, he's going to be suffered the way a callous is suffered or the foot -- the political of Russia. He's not going to be -- nothing's going to be dropped on his head necessarily. But he has suffered in the cause. He -- and speaking of heads, he does have a little bit of a bullet there in his head.
REHMAnd this is Arkady Renko, but I think our emailer is really referring to you and how you have learned as much as you have about what happens in Russia.
SMITHWell, when I went there the next time I was allowed in, which was many years later -- because there was a period there where to be found with a copy of "Gorky Park" in your possession would earn you a couple of years in prison. Now I'm published in Russia, so that's one gauge of how the Russians deal with me. It used to be that, you know, they'd put somebody away in prison. Now they deal with me by publishing me, which is a rather clever way of doing it.
REHMWhen was -- of course. When was the last time you were there?
SMITHAbout a year ago.
REHMAbout a year ago.
SMITHSo I've been there about eight times, nine times.
REHMWhat do you do when you're there?
SMITHWell, I get together -- this goes to the heart of the man's question, which is that, do I have access to the police? And I do, and I have for some time now. I have friends in the police department -- investigation department, and I've been to the police headquarters, fired off a round in the ballistics lab, and spent a lot of time not only talking to them but actually going out on -- you can say free form kind of patrol with them, seeking out the most dangerous areas of Moscow.
REHMWhy did they allow you to do that?
SMITHI think they're undecided what to do with me. People who -- it seems to me that the detectives who have worked with me tend to be detectives who are about to leave the police department and are looking for a chute out the side of the plane.
REHMDo they allow you into the morgue?
SMITHYes. And so far I've been able to get myself into about anywhere I want to go. But you've got to do it. You've got to do it -- I used to do -- I used to get around the fact that people with cameras were regarded with great suspicion in Russia back in the '70s. And I got around that by drawing instead, and so I'd be outside Lubyanka prison not with a camera, which was again a lot of attention, but with a sketch pad.
SMITHAnd I would draw my locations. I'd go to bars full of military cadets who were passed out on the floor and draw them and make notes about them. I just I go until I'm stopped. You know, it's really quite simple. It's a very frontal, you could say, basic kind of approach. But I believe in testing the -- you don't know what the limits are, and especially with Russians, because with Russians they love laying down the law, and then they love breaking the law. They love showing that they are individuals. You know, if you get past the façade, then you can really be in.
REHMOne of the key elements in this novel "Tatiana" is a notebook made by a young interpreter, recorder, observer of a conference that he has recently attended. He rides on a very expensive bike. At the beginning of the novel, he is accosted and killed. His notebook is tossed away but found, and within that notebook is a key to mass corruption that is going on. And that notebook has symbols. It has drawings. It has characters that no one can interpret.
SMITHI first became aware of this form of shorthand, you might say, when I was being interviewed in Italy. And in between thinking of answers to the questions, I noticed that the interpreter who I was working with was drawing pictures in a pad, and he first divided the page into four parts. Then he started drawing pictures of dogs or spirals or signs or -- and not a lot but enough so that when he went back through them, they were -- he used them as cues to -- he would even, you know, in the beginning, he would write, blah, blah, blah to, you know, designate who the official spokesmen were.
SMITHBut otherwise it was a matter of just his own memory, his storehouse of his memory for things or words or whatever that he used to interpret. He would go on for five or 10 minutes at a time off about five or 10 or 15 of these symbols, which meant that much to him and nothing to anybody else, which seemed to me about the most secure form of code anyone could imagine. I -- so right in the middle of doing an interview for one book, I was thinking up another.
REHMSo you used that very technique in this book.
REHMVery successfully, I might add.
SMITHWell, it struck me as so basic and so simple. You know, and, for example, how would you draw death? Would you do it as a cross, as a skull and bones, you know, or something that would go only fit into your history, your imagination, your memory? And to decode that demands the skill of someone like a chess prodigy, like our boy Zhenya.
REHMAnd how would you represent evil?
SMITHEvil might be a dagger. Evil might be a pool of blood. It might be a witch's cap. You know, it can be anything. You know, what is the most personal account for you? It may be a gravestone, very likely is. But it could be a string of pearls if that's what your mother was strangled with.
REHMMm. Martin, you have Parkinson's disease.
REHMAnd you have undergone deep brain stimulation so that you have stopped putting your books into either handwritten or typewritten or computer form. Instead, you dictate to your wife. Is that correct?
SMITHI'm guilty of exactly that.
REHMAnd does that...
SMITHI mean, I can type. I'm just would be the worst typist you ever saw. I can't -- I can write unintelligibly, illegibly, but when it comes...
REHMThat's a good symptom of Parkinson's, that you're less...
SMITHWhich writing is smaller and more illegible...
SMITHAnd people thought I was being artistic. And, no, that was just the way it was. You know, you just -- there's something in you that sort of diminishes the language that you have command of. And sometimes you hear it, you know, in roughness of my voice right now -- I wouldn't say my voice used to be clear as clarion, but it was -- it didn't have this husky, deeply fairly attractive, masculine voice that I have now.
REHMIt's the muscles of the throat that begin to erode or diminish.
SMITHYes. Well, I had one person who could help me out of this hole, and that was my wife, Em. And she volunteered. It was not my idea, but she volunteered to first to help me in one page and then another page and then finally complete takeover, which is kind of interesting because I was full of male ego as possible and, on the other hand, had sort of an egoless intelligence. And so she, you know, she's sort of clear as spring water, whereas I wouldn't even bother to describe myself. But she could sit down there and write everything I'm saying.
SMITHAnd because we've been together for almost -- well, since we were in college, she's been reading my stuff for a very, very long time and knows when I'm writing well and knows when I'm cheating. I mean, she knows enough so that if I'm writing a scene that seems to be going very smoothly, she can say, well -- I'd say, this is marvelous. It's just rolling along -- and says, well, you wrote the same scene two books back.
REHMAnd that's cheating.
SMITHThat's cheating. Or she also -- when she sort of took over in a more official matter, she said, I'll do it, but only if there are no dead dogs or dead children. So we eliminated that from my vocabulary. And also one other thing was that when it came to sex scenes, she left the room. So I was -- I struggled through that kind of scene on my own.
REHMHow has sort of talking to her your books -- talking your books to her, how has it changed the dimension, the manner in which you believe your writing is finally produced?
SMITHWell, I don't -- it has changed remarkably little, I think. Although, in a curious way, I think it may have freed me up because I can't go for the length of the small details anymore. I'm -- you know, I open the book with a sentence that I'd written a different way when I began the book because it's transitioning into dictation came on the way, which made it a little more desperate, so that I couldn't write with as much prose.
SMITHI wrote a finer, more -- a different kind of person, so I started the book with saying, the day -- how did I begin it?
SMITHIt was the kind of day that didn't give a damn.
REHMIt was the sort of day that didn't give a damn. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I love that sentence.
SMITHIt means something to us, although it -- what does it mean? It seems to mean nothing except that it describes the kind of day in which nothing you think is going to happen.
REHMWhat was your physical life like before you had the deep brain stimulation?
SMITHI was a runner. Right now, the one thing I can still do with any degree of skill is play ping pong, which sort of demands from you all kinds of fast reactions, and that sort of kicks in an emergency set of nerves which is, to me, really interesting and amazing. But otherwise than that, I simply don't have the strength that I had or the speed that I had. And at the same time, I've been a lot worse, you know. With the DBS, I was -- before the DBS, I was moving around like a penguin with wings flapping.
REHMHow old were you when you had the DBS?
SMITHWell, it was a year ago, about 11 months ago, I'd say actually.
REHMIt was a year.
SMITHSo I was 70.
REHMSeventy. It's interesting you talk about ping pong. My husband, who also has Parkinson's, when his physical therapist comes, she throws a ball back and forth to him.
REHMAnd he is wonderful at catching it and throwing it and catching it and throwing it.
REHMSo to hear you talk about ping pong makes lots of sense. How did you first know you had Parkinson's?
SMITHIt was Thanksgiving Day about a dozen years ago, maybe 13, 14 years ago. And I was about to go down and join the festivities at a friend's house. And I was with another friend who's a doctor, and he said, Bill, why are you -- people who know me well call me Bill -- why are you dragging your right arm? Why is it -- I said, well, I didn't notice that I was. He said, well, you did. Just do this. Move your arm like this. Move your arm like that.
SMITHAnd I did, and he said, you know, Bill, I think you better see your doctor. These are signs of Parkinson's disease. And then we went down to Thanksgiving dinner, and I happened to be seated next to a man in the most -- worst condition from Parkinson's disease I've ever seen. He could barely eat.
SMITHBut also I knew that he had been a teacher, a New York high school teacher, which would manage a great deal of resilience and intelligence. And he was trapped -- that man was trapped within another man. And that was the man I was sitting next to. And it was the most -- the driest Thanksgiving I've ever had.
REHMThinking what could...
SMITHWell, this is, you know, this is the future. You're sitting next to your future.
REHMMartin Cruz Smith, his new novel is titled "Tatiana." When we come back, we'll open the phones, your questions, your email. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd here's our first email for Martin Cruz Smith, whose new Arkady Renko novel is titled "Tatiana." Such a beautiful name and such a beautiful title.
SMITHIt's sort of an intriguing name. You want to know more about a woman named Tatiana.
REHMAbsolutely. Here is the email from Greta in Arlington who says, "What I love about Renko, he continues to seek truth and justice even though he's surrounded by corruption and the deck is stacked against him and he knows it. Surely that makes him a romantic."
SMITHWell, he was. There's a wonderful passage in there and I wish I'd brought a copy of the book with me now because there's a passage in there about who do you think you are. He's accused by Anya of being a romantic. And he denies it as strongly as he can.
REHMBut he really is.
SMITHBut he -- you know, that's who he is. You know, he simply -- he comes out of this retched background, both parents having committed suicide and having given it a go himself. So he's been, you could say, on the other side. He carries within his head -- within his skull, you know, a bit of a ticking time bomb.
REHMA fragment of a bullet.
SMITHA fragment of a bullet that he's told -- accosted himself not take any chances, and to think of himself as a broken egg. And he says to the doctor who describes him that way that, you know, as -- he doesn't quite put it this way but he said -- you know, he's describing he's a broken egg. I am or I do. And so he's got -- the one thing he's got going for him is nothing to lose. And this is what makes him a very difficult adversary.
REHMSo therefore, he has changed over the years?
SMITHYeah, he has changed. He has changed. And I get this from different people who are concerned about him. It's very funny to have a character that, you know, the people are concerned about. I feel responsible and I feel guilty because my hero does not bounce back off of a five-story drop from a window. He gets banged up and he's banged up for a long time. And he's - the idea that he carries within himself this bullet, which has its own history, this bullet has weaved its way through a few books now.
SMITHAnd I'm not saying that a reader has to read each of my books or in sequence. But if you have done either of those, there are some sort of treats or bonuses inside.
REHM"Gorky Park" became a movie.
REHMDo you expect "Tatiana" to become so?
SMITHIf it does become so I would -- this is fantasy time now. You know, who would play whom? And I would love it if -- we're in kind of -- somebody's trying to pull this together. Now somebody's trying to pull together a series of miniseries, you know...
REHM...of Arkady Renko.
SMITHYeah, right. And all I ask is in whichever you're given, it not be -- that the hero be a Russian. Oddly enough, for someone who doesn't have a Russian background to go around demanding that we have a Russian play his character is pretty...
REHMWell, surely. I mean, you couldn't put an American into his character with a fake accident.
SMITHWell, William Hurt did his best in the film "Gorky Park." And it was an honorable effort. But I think the time's come now to take that next step.
SMITHIt's a little bit like, you know, the first -- I said to the publisher, you know, having a Russian hero, well let's have a Russian play a Russian hero.
REHMAll right. Let's go to -- first to Kirk in Pensacola, Fla. Hi there, you're on the air.
KIRKYes, thank you. And I was just wondering the concept, the setting the theme where perhaps the wrongdoer -- I mean, what he has done wrong is he's sought out -- he's been seeking the truth. And I guess I haven't been exposed to that many novels -- I mean, I wonder about that in this country as well as -- of course in other countries we've known that has been a problem. I mean, but I was just wondering how the author -- how often he's come up with this theme. And it seems like a great theme to work with.
REHMAnd the theme that you're asking about is...
KIRKIs just that it is really -- perhaps it is crime to just seek the truth. I mean, you imperil yourself just as a man might step to the edge of a cliff or even step off the cliff.
REHMAll right, Kirk.
SMITHWell, I think you really put it well when you said, it is a crime to seek the truth. And I think that's the heart of all these books. And to think that, you know, is it the crime of theft of diamonds or of gold or a jet plane or whatever. Those are individual little bobbles. But seeking, destroying the truth, hiding the truth, the truth is the heart of the issue always. And I thank you for pointing that out.
REHMAnd here you hit the truth about your Parkinson's Disease for a very long time.
SMITHWell, you know, nobody likes to be considered weak. Nobody likes to be less than they were. No one likes to get old. You know, and I've been getting my own way for quite a long time. And I had and have a family and a work that I love. And so it was -- you know, it just seemed suddenly unfair that, you know, that I was going to be dealt a bad card. I wasn't ready for that. And other than that it was just a matter of sliding. And so it's -- Parkinson's is in many ways a pocket description of life and death in that you are -- you get a preview.
SMITHI could go back and look at my own life and say ah, that year I slept here -- I slipped here, I fell here. I accidentally did this or that. And now it all makes sense. When bad things start to make sense you're in trouble.
REHMDo you think that having Parkinson's Disease has changed the way you think about your characters?
SMITHWell, I do because I care about them. I don't want to make them any lesser. I don't want them to lose their juice. I don't want them to be compromised. At the same time I have to recognize that they are compromised, as we all are every day. And so it was -- it's a matter that I'm still struggling with.
REHMSo how did you manage to keep the secret from your editor, from your publisher?
SMITHWell, that was tricky. And I had to tell my agent because he was so close to me and has been for a very long time. And he was pleased to hear -- not pleased to hear but it made sense to him because he felt that I was so unresponsive. Because you can become unresponsive, become stiff and you -- apparently hard to please and unhappy. And he thought I was all that suddenly. And so he -- things made sense for him.
SMITHI didn't tell the publisher at all because I didn't want to be the writer with Parkinson's. I didn't want to be judged by some different standard. I didn't want mercy points. And so I gave the publisher the manuscript. And he came back and said all those things a writer wants to hear. And I said, well now I can tell you that I wrote this with the help of Em and...
SMITH...my wife because I've got Parkinson's. And as he describes it later, you could've knocked him over with a feather. And so he said, my god, I never would've known. I said, that's the idea. He said, well, can you do anything about it because, you know, people sort of -- do something about it. And I said, well, I have. He said, what? And I said, well, I had brain surgery last week, which knocked him over with a second -- another feather. But yeah, I...
REHMYou're going to do whatever you need to do to stay in the game.
SMITHI am a worm that is being attacked by a fork. I'm going to squirm and move as fast as I can as long as I can.
REHMI'm glad to hear that. Let's go to Fran in Brohman, Mich. You're on the air.
FRANHi. First of all, let me say that I have read all of Martin Cruz Smith's books and I have most of them at home here with me. What I'd like to know is what he thinks of Stuart Kaminsky's -- one of Stuart Kaminsky's main characters, a Russian Inspector Rostnikov. Probably mispronounced that. And I was wondering if he misses Stuart Kaminsky as much as I do.
SMITHWell, Stuart Kaminsky, I know, was a very good writer. I never read any of his Russian books.
FRANOh, my goodness.
SMITHNever, not a page. And it's because there was -- I heard that they were very good. I heard, you know, that I should be interested because three were similarities. And as soon as I heard that I was determined not to allow myself to be in a position where I had to explain where Arkady was different or that I had been influenced...
REHM...for how you might have been influenced.
SMITH...or -- exactly, that I'd been influenced or borrowed or stolen anything from Kaminsky. And this was -- you could say it was a defensive maneuver. But I hate being asked about -- you know, being charged with stealing something when for once I have clean hands.
REHMHere's an email from Ken. Please ask about "Rose" your novel which is set in the English coal mines in the 1800s.
SMITHWell, "Rose" is just as it was called a standalone. And I have a special fondness for it because it was such an irrational choice of a subject, the subject being women who worked in the coal mines of England in the 1870s. And they worked -- they defied convention by refusing to work around heavy machinery and tubs in long skirts. What they'd do they'd roll up the skirts and then sew them tight and then work in pants. And this made them a social sexual scandal in Victorian England.
SMITHGentlemen would travel by train from London up to Wiggin, which is Wiggin of Wiggin Peer -- up to Wiggin to see these women, to get a sexual charge out of seeing these women in -- wearing these heavy -- not only a heavy skirt rolled up but long trousers. It was as unattractive, unenticing getup as you can imagine. And yet it certainly got a charge among Victorians.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to, let's see, I think Rodney in Jacksonville, Fla. You're on the air.
RODNEYGood morning, Diane. I'm so happy to tell you on the air that I think you are a national treasure and I love your show.
REHMThank you so much.
RODNEYAnd what an intriguing subject. I heard in the intro to the program today that one could understand Russia through Mr. Smith's crime novels. And I'm wondering if crime really defines society over there. Is it the stereotypical Gestapo police state super invasive? Can we really understand modern Russia through crime?
SMITHWell, I think you can to a large extent. You know, it used to be that what was a crime was the sort of a form of almost you could say barter, and that they were stealing objects. They weren't stealing that much in the way of money because there wasn't that much money. Now of course you've got more billionaires in Moscow than any other place...
REHMThe so-called oligarchs.
SMITHYeah, and then when you're introduced to somebody at a -- when they throw themselves a birthday party like the one I was at in which they -- you're introduced to somebody who controls the -- 85 percent of the aluminum deposits in Russia, you're dealing with astounding amounts of -- billions of dollars.
SMITHAnd they -- the idea that they wear -- the ownership of NBA and NFL teams American football teams as an adornment is a sign of how things have changed.
REHMDo they buy the police?
SMITHThey buy them. Oh, they -- do they buy the police? Well, that has been purely -- it used to be run entirely by the party because there was -- used to be an arrangement in which there was sort of a dual kind of government. There was the government and then there was the party. Now the party has atrophied to virtually nothing and now it's more rough and tumble. And everything has got a price tag.
REHMHave you ever met Vladimir Putin?
SMITHNo. I'd love to in between his wrestling with tiger cubs and water skiing. And if he ever came to rest and I had a chance to talk to him, I certainly would love the encounter.
REHMSo you're expressing an invitation.
SMITHConsider this an invitation.
REHMMartin Cruz Smith. His newest novel and Arkady Renko novel is titled "Tatiana." And he is of course the author of "Gorky Park," "Stalin's Ghost." Thank you so much.
SMITHMy great pleasure. Thank you so much.
REHMMy pleasure. And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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A little known part of the Republican's 2017 tax bill has given big breaks to the wealthy without delivering on the promised benefits to poor communities around the country.
Diane and José Andrés in front of a live audience at The Library Congress National Book Festival.