A few hours after Russian detective Ivan Duvakin (last seen in Murder in Magadan, 1983) is ``offered'' a reassignment from Moscow to the Kazakhstan oil town of Novii Uzen, his wife Galya is killed by burglars, his stepdaughter Anya takes a powder, and he amazes himself by accepting the assignment he'd fought (and replacing a predecessor who retired when an apartment building fell on him). Energy Minister Igor Chistoplotskii, hamstrung by the political breakup that's denied his authority over local elections, wants Duvakin to agitate against the incumbent apparatchik Momish—even though that means working on behalf of insurgent half-Kazakh Edik Mordachkin, who's clearly tied in some way to Galya's murder. It'll take a dozen sly betrayals, revelations of prostitution and black-marketing, and a full-scale pogrom before Duvakin's able to put all the pieces together. A characteristically convoluted plot, enriched by a bleakly nuanced portrait of the downside of perestroika in the provinces.
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