#1 Leo Demidov mystery set in 1950's Russia. Leo is a State Security agent--one of those who arrests the people who are guilty of traitorous actions, who are to be "questioned" (read: tortured) and then either sent to the Gulags or executed. Of course not all these people are actually guilty--but Leo is so indoctrinated into the "party line" that he just doesn't see it that way. If you are accused, then you MUST be guilty and deserve whatever you get.
Until a vicious, ambitious co-worker who has it in for him inserts Leo's wife's name into another prisoner's confession and thus Leo is asked to investigate his own wife and then denounce her. He refuses, and he and Raisa are sent to do the lowest of lowly jobs in a remote manufacturing community. Shortly after their arrival, Leo finds the body of a child in the snow--stripped, its stomach cut out and soil stuffed in its mouth. Horrified, Leo realizes that this crime must have been committed by the same person who killed the son of another agent back in Moscow months earlier--a crime that he helped to cover up and officially called 'an accident' without ever actually seeing the body or crime scene.
Suddenly he is gripped by the need to solve this crime and to his dismay as he secretly begins an investigation, discovers dozens of other similar murders occurring in small towns along the railroad line, all having been covered up by the State and never formally acknowledged as murder. With the help of some others willing to risk their skins, Leo and Raisa gather information and knowing full well it means execution at the end of the line if they are caught, set out to stop the monster preying on Russia's children.
What a wonderful book! Not the details of the story, mind you--those were nothing short of horrible. It seems very well-researched and also well-written; the author manages to make you somehow take Leo's side even though at the beginning he is a high-ranking officer in a machine that systematically terrorized and destroyed the whole vastness of the Soviet Union.
I was able to figure out the plot twist well ahead of time with the carefully laid down clues the author left, but that didn't spoil my enjoyment of the story. Dark, graphically violent and deeply philosophical, this book won't appeal to everyone, but I personally am very much looking forward to the next entry in the series.
A great story as well as a good look at the Cold War Soviet Union.