Serfs have been emancipated and more people are allowed to be educated, but improvements meant as a result of these and other changes are slow to happen for the people most affected. The disenfranchised new working-class discover “Horrid living conditions, poverty, debt-were constant companions.” One particular leader of a splinter revolutionist group believes the only way to get the right message across to the tsar and others who need to hear it is to plan and execute something that makes it clear it was no random event, but a decisive one. Where better to create such a spectacle than in public, in front of the grandest opera theater in town, at the opening of a new show. The plan is to do the deed and blame the Nihilists, because this leader and his group must remain hidden and unknown until the moment they can safely reveal themselves, once they have public support. The event goes off as planned, and Detective Yuri Vladimirovich Petrov decides to visit the scene, where his presence gets noticed by someone from the Okhrana, as well as one of the perpetrators.
Yuri rose to his position in the investigative division of the St. Petersburg Police Department on merit, not politics or who he knew. He sticks to investigative basics and has a higher success rate for solving crimes than anyone in his division. His instincts are keen and he follows where they lead him. He’s on the case to find those behind this crime. It’s not his district, so this shouldn’t be his case, but his reputation for competency and, particularly, discretion in a prior case involving a member of the royal family motivated the appropriate investigative service, the Okhrana, to include him. Yuri’s instincts tell him there is more to his involvement than this. Trying to find the right trail to follow leads to many frustrations as well as good leads, and into disturbing realizations about how his government actually works at the inner level. Trying to determine who, what, when, and how haunts him, even as he makes headway in his investigation. His instinct, and a few experiences he has along the way, indicates something even bigger is being planned. His gut tells him he needs to hurry. The question that drives him is Will he be too late.
I don’t usually go for historical novels as my personal reading choices, but this one is done well and worth the read, and is as much a mystery novel as an historical one. The author, Eric Berbig, sets the tone and mood, and has excellent plot and character development. He builds the tension and sustains it all the way through with a well-organized progression of the story, The writing is smooth, flowing, and so descriptive that you feel the settings, locations, and time period, as well as the emotions of the characters; he engages the senses. This book held my attention all the way through and contains several riveting scenes. It could have used very slight editing touch-ups, but instances are few and do not detract from this engaging story. It’s top-of-the-line storytelling from start to finish.