It had been a few years since the pilot Yegorov had lost his family. His wife took the children on an ‘all expenses paid’ course sponsored by a group called “The Healthy Family,” and disappeared without a trace. Yegorov starts trying to collect information on this religious sect, and consults a lawyer who specializes in pseudo-religious groups, but all his efforts are in vain. Outside the lawyer’s office, quite by accident, he runs into Grigorij Russov, an old school friend, who is now in charge of the Education Ministry. Yegorov asks him for help, but Russov seems evasive. Yegorov follows him. He goes to a restaurant, and Yegorov sees him talking with the guru who leads the “Healthy Family” courses. Outside the restaurant, Yegorov is brutally beaten up by a group of unknown assailants.
A year later, Yegorov gets a tip that allows him to free his son from the grip of the bums who had sent him to beg on the street. He learns that his son got separated from his wife and the other children when they were getting on the train. His son is totally deranged and wild. The doctors have little hope that he will recover.
Grigorij Russov is now the governor elect of the Sinedolsk Region, one of the largest in Siberia. He decides to have his biography written, and assigns the task to an old acquaintance, who is a famous author, Nikita Rakitin. One of the details of Russov’s life makes Rakitin suspicious, and he goes to Sibiria to visit the village of Sholtij Log. There, he sees women and children with a curiously vacant look in their eyes, panning for gold (as it later turns out, there is a Korean sect behind all this). The village itself is controlled by bandits. Once he’s back in Moscow, somebody takes a shot at Rakitin. He decides to hide out in the apartment of an old lady friend, an artist named Sina. Fire breaks out in the apartment, and Nikita Rakitin’s body is found in the smoldering ruins.
Sina travels to Sinedolsk to visit her old friend Nika. Nika was once madly in love with Rakitin, but she married Russov, and Russov was always jealous of Rakitin. Sina has brought a letter addressed to Nika with her. The letter claims that Russov ordered Rakitin’s murder. Sina had been given the letter by a beggar, who had seemed a bit strange—since when do beggars smell of soap?
The day of Russov’s inauguration has arrived, but Nika leaves the festivities and flies to Moscow. Her husband sends his people after her. Nika discovers that Rakitin’s body was cremated by mistake, even though a positive identification had not been made yet. Nika’s cell-phone conversations are apparently being intercepted, and Russov’s people are breathing down her neck. Despite that, she begins her own investigation. She’s helped by Nikita’s daughter from his first marriage, who dreams of becoming a private detective.
As in all Dashkova’s other novels, the various plot lines criss-cross one another, but nevertheless, at the end all the puzzle pieces are in the correct places. There are four investigations running in parallel: Yegorov is looking for his family, Rakitin is searching for the truth about Russov, Nika for the murderer of the man she still loves, and a simple policeman is out to discover the fate of his idol, the detective-novel author Rakitin, who once (like Dashkova herself!) was a gifted poet. The author again takes the reader on a tour of the most varied milieus. There are homeless children, a lawyer, a publishing-house editor, and many more, very believable, and, in part, comic figures, like Sina, the eternal hippie, dishwasher and painter.
Of course, as always, the book is an exciting detective story (which, by the way, is the true story of the way that sects pursue their nefarious aims in Russia), but it is really the touching story of Nika’s and Nikita’s love. The amount of imagination that Dashkova applied to this story is so great that the portrait of the complicated relationships in Nika’s family that she paints would have been enough for a novel in and of itself.