October 7, 2006, 54th birthday of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. The investigative journalist, Anna Stepanova Politkovskaya, has just got back from assignment in Chechnya covering Russia’s colonial war there for her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta. She is weary and dirty, looking forward to a shower. So she doesn’t pay much attention to the two individuals sharing the elevator with her when she gets to her apartment building. One of them shoots her in the back of the head.
“Happy birthday, Citizen President,” he says.
Ivanov, a clapped out Moscow detective nearing retirement, is called to the scene, which has all the hallmarks of a KGB killing. (The KGB has metamorphed into the Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii – Federal Security Service, or FSB, but old habits die hard.)
He goes to her office to examine her laptop only to find someone has been there before him and taken it, with all the papers, notebooks etc from her desk. When he asks the police pathologist for the autopsy on her death, he finds that has also been taken by the FSB.
He storms into the FSB Lubyanka office to find that Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika has taken personal charge of the case.
Officially, Ivanov has been forced to take a vacation, but he refuses to allow the case to be taken away from him and he begins questioning her associates.
To his surprise, he is called back to the Lubyanka and advised to conduct an under-cover investigation under the auspices of the FSB. He is booked on the next flight to London, to question Akhmed Zakayev, exiled Chechen militant, whom Anna had met when she was covering the poisoning there of Litvinenko. Ivanov learns that Anna, too, had been poisoned on a Russian internal flight, but had recovered. Her medical notes have been destroyed.