Children are being murdered in Stalinist Russia. At that time news of a mass murderer of children wouldn't be seen as good in the government run state so it was ignored or called something else.
However, Leo Davidov of the Ministry of State Security is a man with a conscience. When the family of one of his men is killed by the train tracks tell Leo that their son was found naked and was murdered, he feels an obligation to investigate. His superiors order him to pay no heed to the situation.
Vasili Nikiyin is Leo's conniving assistant. A true Machiavellian, Vasili manages to have Leo and his wife Raise thrown out of Moscow and sent to Voualsk.
Leo is demoted but still is an investigator and more children's bodies continue to be found, naked, their stomachs cut out and a string around their leg.
Leo goes to his superior, Maj Kuzmin and confronts him about the murders and tells him that they must investigate them. In Stalinist Russia, authorities didn't open an investigation unless they already had a suspect. Kuzmin tells Leo that he can continue to look into the murders but he's on his own.
Leo has had difficulty with his wife but Raisa sees his struggle to find the killer as a noble calling and decides to help. The Major also makes unofficial inquiries in the towns along the railroad line. They discover that 44 children have been murdered near the railroad tracks. However, Leo is denounced and arrested. He and Raisa are condemned to a labor camp.
How will Leo escape from the train carrying him to the labor camp?
Will Vasili get his ultimate revenge in seeing Leo's death?
These are the events that are described in the conclusion of this magnificent story. Leo has never heeded the common people of Russia but with Raisa's encouragement, he tells his story to the other people on the train and in the villages and they help him.
The author has done a wonderful job writing this story. Not only do we have the rekindled relationship between Leo and Raisa but the deception that was much of the life in Russia. Leo is a daring character, sympathetic and admirable. Raisa emerges as the real strength in the family. Vasisl's compulsive hatred for Leo and Raisa and his apparent success in bringing their downfall is similar to Javert in "Les Miserables."
Critical acclaim for the book has been unanimous.
Awards and nominations include:
"Los Angeles Times" Book Prize
Booker Prize - Shortlist
"The Strand" Critics Award
Anthony Award - nominee
Barry Award - nominee
Dilys Award - Nominee
Winner Thriller Award for best 1st Novel
Don't miss it.