MGB operative Leo Demidov is a strict rule follower. Working for the government during Stalinís reign, and as a poster-boy soldier in the years before, Leo abides by the regulations set out for a strong and faultless communist Russia. His job within the Ministry for State Security involves the apprehension and arrest of traitors, political dissidents, and anybody at risk of destroying the future that Stalin has mapped out for his country. Anybody could be guilty of these crimes- men, women, and even children- and the punishments for guilt could range from years of hard labour in a gulag (work camp), torture and/ or execution. But Leo has conditioned himself to look past the ethics of his job, believing that these people are being punished for the good of Russia.
That is, until his wife Raisa is accused of being a spy. Leo, fearful at this turn of fortune, launches an investigation to uncover the truth. If he denounces his wife, she will surely die. If he stands up for her and defends her honour, not only will she likely die, but so will he and his parents (in a form of Governmental precaution against collaboration). Struck with this choice, Leo has to make several decisions that will affect all of their lives. To make matters worse, a subordinate colleague has recently been faced with the loss of his young boy. He and his family believe that he was murdered, but these allegations go against the Ďcrime-freeí beliefs of the country. Leo at the time was forced to make the family retract their statements, and this comes back to haunt him when, exiled from his home, and denounced by his enemies, he discovers that there have been similar child deaths throughout the country. By now disillusioned by his former role in the government, and desperate to uncover the truth about the killings, Leo seeks to find and stop the murderer before he can kill even more innocent children. But with the Russian Government refusing to believe that such a criminal even exists, itís up to Leo to uncover the truth and bring an end to these brutal serial killingsÖ
Set in Stalinís Soviet Russia, itís clear that the author did a lot of research regarding the autocratic and fearful environment that the characters live in. The sense of paranoia, the fear of fatal reprisals and the surprising courage of the people in distant villages all blend together to create a realistic portrayal of what it could have been like to live during that violent and brutal era in Russiaís history. All of the characters are strong in their own way, from brave and headstrong Leo to survivalist Raisa, and even the unlikeable characters (like Leoís former Ďpartnerí Vasili) have strong and often understandable motives for being the way that they are. Leoís childhood, the murdererís back story and the political climate all add to the tension in the tightly woven plotline. Add to this the fact that the murders are based on a true story, and you have an engrossing and gripping recipe for crime-book success. This award-winning thriller has been made into a film starring Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman and Noomi Rapace and, while I havenít seen the movie, if it is anything like the novel, it should contain high-edge drama and action, as well as a brutal but realistic portrayal of Soviet Russia between the 1930s and mid-1950s.