This is the story of an MGB agent in Soviet Russia trying to solve the mystery of a series of child murders. The novel begins with two little boys living in a small village in the Russian wilderness in the winter, hunting for any food they can find to bring back to their mother. One of the boys is near sighted and cannot see clearly. His older brother guides him. However something goes terribly wrong and the older brother goes missing. The near sighted boy and his mother are left alone. The story then cuts to several years later. It is the 1950s. The main character of the novel is an MGB agent, war hero, and poster boy for Stalinist Russia named Leo. Leo is a loyal follower of state doctrine but slowly his resolve to be complicit in state atrocities dissolves. He finally breaks when the state decides to test him by asking him to arrest his own wife as an enemy of the state. They flee and he becomes an enemy of the state as well. Now on the run Leo decides to stop a string of child murders the state has been ignoring for political reasons. There formally is no crime in Stalinist Russia, therefore the state is unwilling to admit a mass murderer is on the loose and instead they try to cover it up. The bodies all have identical carvings on them and are filled with saw dust. Throughout the novel the narrative cuts to the killer. The killer wears glasses but takes them off when hunting the children. He uses the same techniques that the two little boys in the forest used at the beginning of the novel. As Leo and his wife hunt down the killer they become hunted by the very men Leo used to work with, not knowing who they can trust. At one point they are captured and must escape a prisoner train through a hole in the floor boards. Along the way Leo remembers how he courted his wife and all the -in his view- cutesy things she did to play hard to get. As the story progresses it is revealed that she is fact was terrified of him because of his involvement in the state. She was trying to escape him but ended up marrying him out of fear for her own life. She has hated him ever since. She also reveals that while he was celebrating the war as a grad victor her home village had been destroyed and she had been raped multiple times by troops. She hated seeing his triumphant pictures of the war hung up in their house. Throughout this journey however they begin to develop a real marriage. Leo eventually discovers that the murderer is his little brother Andrei. Leo and Andrei were the little boys in the forest. Andrei had not been able to cope with the loss of his brother. When he later saw pictures of Leo as a war hero he became distraught that his brother was alive but had never gone back for him. Leo had been kidnapped by a couple who had wanted a son and raised him as their own. Leo had wanted to forget about his kidnapping and his past and had accepted his kidnappers as his parents. Andrei knew that Leo was now someone important and had thus committed the murders to try to draw his brother back to him. He knew that Leo would recognize the clues that Andrei was leaving for him. Leo ends up killing Andrei to keep him from committing any more atrocities. Leo and his wife decide to try to make up for some of Leo's former sins by adopting two little girls orphaned by the MGB.
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Best part of story, including ending:
I liked that there were plenty of clues as to who the killer was but that it was still a shock that Leo was the other little boy from the first part.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is when Leo and his wife manage to escape the train through the floor boards.
Opinion about the main character:
What I disliked most about Leo was how he was so self absorbed and had difficulty seeing things from anyone else's perspective.