... in a thrilling change of pace, The Siberian Dilemma takes us out of the city and into Russia’s untamed wilderness in search of a journalist who’s gone missing while on a dangerous, perhaps foolhardy, assignment ... The plot diffuses into several subplots, but so long as we keep our sights on Arkady, everything makes perfect sense. Smith’s lucid prose, surprising imagery and realistic dialogue, as well as his wonderfully quirky characters, all serve his engrossing storytelling. But in the end what linger in your mind are the voices — of people who never knew they had so much to say and never dreamed their voices mattered.
Martin Cruz Smith’s prose flows as lucidly as ever. The author has a knack for working witty observations about Russian life into the text, celebrating the unique facets of the society and culture while highlighting the very glaring flaws in the country’s politics and institutions ... Bolot is a brilliant character, and what begins as a police case and a mission to find Tatiana soon turns into a terrific adventure in the wilds of Siberia. There are murders, sabotage on the oil rigs, bear attacks, double-crosses, political intrigue and life-and-death journeys across the wilderness. For much of the book, the more detailed and philosophical side of Cruz Smith’s writing takes a back seat to a style that is direct and punchy ... However, they are exceptionally enjoyable pages and this novel is hard to put down. Some readers may have misgivings over the fact that Renko doesn’t seem to have aged much and can deal with the same physical stresses he faced 38 years ago. But the book’s main flaw is that the author throws Renko into the biggest and most fascinating dilemma he faces very late in the story, and extricates him from it far too easily. What he has to do and what he’s up against will have your head spinning, but the final outcome feels too convenient and unsatisfying ... Still, The Siberian Dilemma is a wonderful read from a wonderful writer – MCS is still one of the best in crime fiction.
The Siberian Dilemma has all the tension, sympathetic characterization and research-based verisimilitude that Smith displayed right from the first novel ... Everyone in The Siberian Dilemma seems more urbane that one might expect of real life ... But Smith’s research is telling ... there is little doubt Smith has trod in at least some of his hero’s fictional footsteps. Smith has a remarkable ability to evoke atmosphere with the simplest of language ... Perhaps because Smith only rarely finds the need to be explicitly edifying...the book, in its atmospheric and introspective way, perhaps is.
The book, like all Renko mysteries, is fast-paced, well researched, and atmospheric. Smith has been to Russia seven times, the latest trip three years ago, and knows the turf ... particularly relevant, since two of the main characters are based on real people who have made major international headlines.
... disappoints ... First, the good news. We've still got lovable Arkady — the underdog and rare example of a police investigator who refuses to butter up his superiors. And Smith creates secondary characters that jump off the page and into the hearts of the reader ... In general, though, the novel lacks the exciting twists and turns of Smith's earlier novels. The waves of suspense are less stormy peaks, and more like the wake of a passing motorboat. And then there is the Siberian dilemma itself, which is recycled from Gorky Park. Readers have long memories ... Smith introduces an interesting subplot with Aba...but that peters out. And the theme running throughout the book highlighting the dangers of investigative journalism in Russia certainly rings true, but the implied threat against Renko's beloved Tatiana, who is reporting on Siberian oligarchs, fails to build to a crescendo ... In the end, Smith creates a mystery that is diverting enough for fans of Arkady Renko, but it isn't likely to win over new converts.
Put Arkady Renko near the top of your list of favorite cynics in crime fiction. And, yet, despite the Russian investigator’s bedrock conviction that the Siberian Dilemma (After you fall through ice, do you climb out and die from exposure in seconds, or stay in the water and die from hypothermia in five minutes?) captures the essence of the human condition, he’s always been a sucker for love, and with love comes a kind of fatalistic optimism ... Smith does set-pieces as well as anyone in the genre, so get ready for the Siberian Dilemma to jump from metaphor to chilling reality in multiple ways (exit pursued by a bear). This is Smith at his absolute best: black humor, brown bears, and gray souls.
The story appropriately ends with the Siberian dilemma, where one person faces a terrible choice. Everything just feels Russian, as though the author hikes to his hut from the taiga, warms his frozen fingers at the wood stove, pours himself a vodka, and sits down to type ... This is vintage Martin Cruz Smith. Fans of Arkady Renko will be pleased.