Sunday, December 16, 2007

Chernobyl: Wolves Eat Dogs

I am a fan of Martin Cruz Smith's "Arkady Renko" series of mystery novels. Renko is a Russian detective. The earliest books in the series take place in Soviet Russia, and the latest in today's "new" Russia.

Currently, I am reading Wolves Eat Dogs, the fifth novel in the series. Senior Investigator Renko is searching for clues in the "apparent" suicide of a successful "New Russian" millionaire business man. His trail leads him to the sit of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Smith provides fascinating detail about life in and around "The Zone"; the restricted areas around the site of the nuclear plant.

The book provides a helpful map on the inside cover, but here is a larger, more detailed look at the entire affected region:

Thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes and will never be allowed to return. In the novel, Renko runs into poachers, squaters, and the "old folks" were are unwilling to live anywhere else, in spite of the danger to their health.

The disaster happened before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and I knew that Chernobyl is located in the new Republic of Ukraine. I wasn't aware of how close the plant was to Belarus, nor the fact that the largest percentage of "hot zones" are in that republic. The new international borders only add more complications to Renko's investigation.

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At Sunday, December 16, 2007 , Blogger MarkR said...

Wolves Eat Dogs is a good book, but its portrayal of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone does not fit with my own recollections of it.

I personally visited the Chernobyl area for two days in June 2006 with a friend and former resident of Pripyat. We toured the Chernobyl Plant (including the Reactor 4 control room), several of the abandoned villages, and Pripyat. I have posted a photo journal of my trip at:

My Journey to Chernobyl: 20 Years After the Disaster

At Monday, December 17, 2007 , Blogger Cartophiliac said...


Thank you for the comments and link. You've clearly spent a lot of time studying Chernobyl and its environs. If Smith's portrayal of the EZ is more bleak than yours, I would submit that we are seeing that world through the eyes of Arkady Renko, an undoubtedly very depressed man... Smith also visited the site a few years before you. Perhaps there's been some improvement...

Your comments prompted me to do some more reading about Smith and I found this quote in the British journal Geographical, June 2005:

"Meanwhile, the Zone of Exclusion still fascinates Smith, thriving and decaying at the same time. The local towns, the so-called black villages, are mostly abandoned; local produce can't be trusted. Dosimeters, which measure the level of radioactivity, are essential equipment, and random patches of land, for no immediately obvious reason, display spots that are 1,000 times 'hotter' than normal.

And in the middle of it all, startling signs of life manifest themselves, such as the huge deer, untroubled by hunters and thus free to reach their natural size. "This beast bounded by me, and then I heard this metallic squeaking sound, and out of the woods where the deer had passed by came a little old woman pushing a shopping cart stacked with firewood. She was the last survivor of her village, and really I felt she could have been the last survivor in the world. Because the last survivor, I don't think is going to be a derring-do commando. I think it's going to be this little old lady collecting firewood.""


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