Series: Leo Demidov #1
Narrator: Dennis Boutsikaris
Published by Hachette Audio on April 29, 2008
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 12 hours, 24 minutes
Audio | Goodreads
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 the criminal. But in a society that is officially paradise, its 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 remaining at his side, Leo must find and stop a criminal that the State won't admit even exists.
The story is set in 1953 Russia, shortly before the end of Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror. There’s evidence of a possible serial killer at large but one of the propaganda “truths” is that Russia is crime free. Leo Demidov, a member of the powerful and feared MGB (predecessor of the KGB), is sent to investigate one of the murders but is instructed to classify it as an accident. It sets off a chain of events that will forever change the man and his life.
I was mesmerized by this story as it offered a glimpse into an era I knew little about but is important as it provides insight into the probable foundation of current Russian culture. Part mystery and part historical fiction, the storytelling aspect is outstanding. While Leo is the main character and most everything is seen through his point of view, that view transforms as everything he’s believed in and been a part of begins to unravel as it turns on him. To challenge any of the government positions often means certain death so Leo’s change doesn’t happen without consequence.
The setting represents one of the most important in world history where millions of the so-called “enemies of the Soviet people” were imprisoned, exiled or executed. I’ve known the facts of the era but this story provided more clarity of how a system designed to provide social and economic equality could go so horribly awry. Leo is at times unsympathetic and at others heroic. The story has an emotional punch I hadn’t expected and the narrator just nails everything. I highly recommend listening to this book as it contributes to its authentic sense.