Shanghai, 1926. A city of British Imperial civil servants, American gun-runners, Russian princesses and Chinese gangsters, where heroin is available on room service and everything is for sale. Exotic, sexually liberated and pulsing with life, it is a place and time where anything seems possible. For Richard Field, it represents a brave new world away from the past he is trying to escape. Seconded to the police force, his first moment of active duty is a brutal crime scene. A young White Russian woman, Lena Orlov, lies spreadeagled on her bed, sadistically murdered. As he begins to peer through the gllttering surface to the murky depths beneath, Field sees a world beyond the glamour of the city's expatriate life – a world where everything has its price, and where human life is merely another asset to barter. The key to the investigation seems to be Lena's neighbour, Natasha Medvedev. But can Field trust someone for whom self-preservation is the only goal? And is it wise to fall in love when there is every sign that Natasha herself may be the next victim? In a city where reality is a dangerous luxury, Field is driven into the darkness beyond the dazzle of society to a world where the basest of human needs are met and where the truth seems certain to be a fatal commodity…
St Petersburg 1917. The capital of the glittering empire of the Tsars and a city on the brink of revolution where the jackals of the Secret Police intrigue for their own survival as their aristocratic masters indulge in one last, desperate round of hedonism.
For Sandro Ruzsky, chief investigator of the city police, even this decaying world provides the opportunity for a new beginning. Banished to Siberia for four years for pursuing a case his superiors would rather he'd quietly buried, Ruzsky finds himself investigating the murders of a young couple found out on the ice of the frozen river Neva.
The dead girl was a nanny at the Imperial Palace, the man an American from Chicago. The brutality of their deaths seems an allegory for the times, while for Ruzsky the investigation leads, at every turn, dangerously closer to home.
At the heart of the case lies Maria, the beautiful ballerina Ruzsky once loved and lost. But is she a willing participant in what appears to be a dangerous conspiracy, or is she likely to be its next victim?
In a city on the verge of revolution, and pitted against a ruthless murderer who relishes taunting him, Ruzsky finds himself at last face to face with his own past as he fights to save everything he cares for, before the world into which he was born goes up in flames.