Stalin’s Soviet Union strives to be a paradise for its workers, providing for all of their needs. One of its fundamental pillars is that its citizens live free from the fear of ordinary crime and criminals.
But in this society, millions do live in fear . . . of the State. Death is a whisper away. The mere suspicion of ideological disloyalty-owning a book from the decadent West, the wrong word at the wrong time-sends millions of innocents into the Gulags or to their executions. Defending the system from its citizens is the MGB, the State Security Force. And no MGB officer is more courageous, conscientious, or idealistic than Leo Demidov.
A war hero with a beautiful wife, Leo lives in relative luxury in Moscow, even providing a decent apartment for his parents. His only ambition has been to serve his country. For this greater good, he has arrested and interrogated.
Then the impossible happens. A different kind of criminal-a murderer-is on the loose, killing at will. At the same time, Leo finds himself demoted and denounced by his enemies, his world turned upside down, and every belief he’s ever held shattered. The only way to save his life and the lives of his family is to uncover this criminal. But in a society that is officially paradise, it’s a crime against the State to suggest that a murderer-much less a serial killer-is in their midst. Exiled from his home, with only his wife, Raisa, remaining at his side, Leo must confront the vast resources and reach of the MBG to find and stop a criminal that the State won’t admit even exists.
Book Review: ★★★★★★
What happens when the world is turned upside down through the actions of one man? Even in America the prospect of serial killers is a terrifying concept. But what happens when a serial killer plies his prolific trade in a world believed to be devoid of all criminal activity? (At least in the criminal sense of the word.) This is the playground of Smith’s first novel, where he explores the frightening possibility of what happens when a serial killer flourishes in the Communist Russian world where the only real crime is treason against the state.
This book provides a great read as far as the mystery story goes. All of the elements of the traditional mystery are there — the rampaging killer, the bizarre methodology of killing, the oppressed detective, and the less than supportive investigative team structure. Leo gives us a great look into what it means to be a detective in a world where the only real criminal elements are those that pose a threat against the state — and there is no such thing as crime outside of this narrow definition. The characterization is a little Americanized, but the background and the difficulties faced by this creative thinking detective are certainly the elements of political oppression as found in the communist regime.
But what I found interesting was the addressing of the issue of the extent that the state would go to in order to maintain the illusion that crime does not exist in any form outside of the Westernized world. And since the Russian Communist State isn’t corrupted through these demoralizing Western concepts — there is no possible way that crime can exist. In a world where crime “doesn’t exist” it is almost impossible for the investigators to understand the significant ramifications of a true serial killer. And all the things that here in the “West,” which we have come to learn about the strange nature and actions of the serial killer psychology are presented through the eyes of the disbelieving, skeptical, and politically oppressed Russian society.
This is a story that takes the reader back to a time before the term “serial killer” became a household world — no matter which side of the East/West dividing line you live on. And the story reminds us that the world we live in has changed, significantly. And some of those changes are dangerous in the extreme. We now live in a world where the psychology of this unique type of killer demonstrates the world’s loss of innocence and reminds us that there is no going back to the simpler, and less troublesome times of our past. All we can do is combat the specters that haunt some people’s minds — and are manifest through the bizarre, and even troubling form of murder and mayhem. And in order to suppress this kind of madness — we have to learn to recognize and understand it first.
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