This book is set during the late 1930’s, at the height of the Stalinist purges. Comrade Tulayev, a high party official, is assassinated in a random, unplanned crime of opportunity by an anonymous clerk. The system demanded convictions, and thus began a series of prosecutions of innocent long-time party members. They are arrested and interrogated. In some cases, false confessions are elicited. Some of those arrested are exiled; some are executed.
No one is exempt. Even High Commissar Erchov, who was the official initially conducting the investigation, is arrested. Even men who were close friends with Stalin. Even Deportee Ryzhik, who prior to his arrest, had lived for many years thousands of miles from the scene of the crime, in exile in a remote Siberian village peopled only by a few peasants and one government official stationed there as his guard.
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