This book is shocking, brutal, and utterly, utterly engrossing.
Setting isn't everything, you can tell a poor story in a richly built world. But with this novel I don't think you could tell this story anywhere else but post war communist Russia. The research put in to the world building was surely extensive, as Smith paints in pain staking detail what it must have been like to live in Russia after WWII. Everyone is scared, everyone is has no ambition other than to merely survive. It is a harrowing place, where desolate people die from starvation and a lack of basic provisions.
Enter into this world, Leo Demidov. An MGB officer, one of the feared officials who break down your front door in the middle of the night and whisk you off to prison for nothing more than an offhand comment. Leo is just as scared as the rest, weary of his superiors, fearful of the men he commands.
When his life is turned upside down, he and his wife are outcast from Moscow, to a small town far away from the central government. It is here the story takes on another level, and Leo is driven to investigate a series of brutal murders. And it is here that the story takes a quite brilliant, and very unexpected twist.