A Tale Of Love And Death
His father named him after Stalin, but never call him Josef. He hates the name, though like many Russians he retains a nostalgic fondness for days that are gone. He is a detective, middle-aged, close to retiring age, addicted to the foul-smelling papirosy cigarettes which have given him the gut-wrenching cough that wracks him every morning as he lights the first one as he gets out of bed.
That day in October, 2006, was just like any other day, when he received a routine call to go to investigate a homicide.
So he jumped into his beat-up old Moskvitch car, set the blue light flashing on its roof, and drove to an apartment building in central Moscow where he found the body of a young woman, apparently in her late forties, dressed in combat gear, lying on the floor of an elevator.
But what started out as a routine investigation soon becomes ensnared in bureaucratic red tape when the FSB, successors to the KGB secret police, take charge of the case, and he begins to suspect he is involved in a massive cover-up.
The dead woman, it turns out, was Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya, an investigative journalist on the staff of the dissident journal, Novaya Gazeta, whose despatches from the war in Chechnya had upset many high-ups in the Russian government, perhaps even including President Putin himself.
He expects to be pulled off the case, but instead he is assigned into travel into the war zone, interviewing people who had known the dead woman, even going to London to talk to a colleague of Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko, whose poisoning there with radioactive polonium-210 had threatened to cause a major diplomatic incident between Britain and Russia.
It begins to dawn on him that he has been kept on the assignment because his bosses think he is past it, but when he gets closer to the centres of power the authorities find another way of diverting him from his primary purpose. He falls in love with the young FSB clerk assigned supposedly to assist him in his investigation.
Will love triumph over his duty as a police officer? He doesn’t know, and neither do we.