Ostensibly a police procedural involving a series of torture / murders and a major art theft, the main interest of this book is in its depiction of life in the Soviet Union leading up to the major show trials of 1936. This was also the time of forcced collectivization, the sentencing of both political “enemies” as well as common criminals to near certain death in Siberia, and the tail end of a 5 year plan whose main impact on ordinary Russians was more work for less food. It was, in short, the final consolidation of power by Joseph Stalin, and the unmistakable end of any illusions that there would be socialism in Russia - unmistakable, that is, to any objective observer at the time.
The captain Korolev character is reasonably interesting; a bundle of contradictions including his outward embrace of atheism as he hides a bible in his floorboards; a deep fear and distrust of Stalin, even as he enthusiastically cheers Stalin on the street; a loyalty to the State combined with fear and contempt of the main weapon of State power - the NKVD.
His investigation of the crimes is well told, with enough complications to make the investigation interesting, and a good mix of historical color and forward plot movement.