Captain Alexi Korelev of the CID in the Militia, a decorated veteran of WW I and the Civil War and the Polish War, is investigating non-political crimes. He is a dedicated police officer and Communist who believes in the Revolution. He works diligently to capture real criminals.
The book is not for the faint of stomach. There is a brutal torture and mutilation of a young woman to open the book. Vicious is too tame a description for her killer. General Popov calls on Korelev to find the killer.
As the investigation begins Korolev is advised by Colonel Gregorin of the dreaded NKVD that the political police must be kept informed of each step of the investigation. Korolev carefully complies with the directive. He treads a treacherous path and is really a type of informer passing information to the NKVD on fellow citizens.
He learns that the murder may have something to do with holy items of the Russian Orthodox Church which have been confiscated by the new regime. The woman victim, originally from Russia, had moved to the U.S. and become a Russian Orthodox sister.
Personally, Ryan is grateful when the General arranges for Korolev to share an apartment with a woman and her young daughter. In crowded Moscow it is a luxury to only have 3 people in an apartment in central Moscow.
As Korelev investigates he becomes aware of the involvement of The Thieves (organized criminals). They are easily identified by their tattoos, especially the blue tattooed fingers from prison. There is a remarkable scene where Korelev effectively determines a Thief’s life story from his tattoos. I was not aware these career criminals were tolerated rather than eradicated in Stalinist Russia.
I gained some understanding why organized crime flourished in Russia after the collapse of Communism in the early 1990’s. They were always there. When civil authority weakened they were ready to take advantage.
Ryan skillfully draws together the threads of the plot driving to a convincing conclusion.
Korelev is a worthy predecessor to Leo Demidov of William Rob Smith and Arkady Renko of Martin Cruz Smith. Each of the trio is a dedicated real, rather than political, police officer in totalitarian Russia. I look forward to further Korolev investigations. (May 25/12)