In Stalinist Russia, a smart cop knows just how dangerous it is to be a smart cop.
Alexei Karolev, senior detective in Moscow’s CID in 1937, has earned himself a reputation for competence and discretion he often wishes he hadn’t. The discretion part is what Karolev on his gloomy days—of which he has a fair share—views with particular alarm, since it’s earned him the attention of certain shivery personages high in the Communist Party. These are people to whom all publicity is bad publicity, and for whom Karolev has become the go-to guy whenever there’s a sticky situation like this one: On a movie set near Odessa, a young woman commits suicide, a young and beautiful party member famously connected to a super-powerful party member. Nikolai Ezhov, Commissar of State Security and head of the dreaded NKVD, has reason to believe that the young woman had help shuffling off her mortal coil. Ezhov wants Karolev to travel to Odessa to sort things out but without seeming to do so—that is, to catch a murderer without actually conducting an investigation. It’s a minefield of a mission, but, as Karolev knows full well, failure is never an option with the Ezhovs of the Party, their desk drawers brimming with one-way tickets to Siberia.
Though he’s not quite as fully realized as Stuart Kaminsky’s Porfiry Rostnikov, the appealing Karolev in his second appearance (The Holy Thief, 2010) invites comparison to him. That’s high praise indeed.