The novel's plot takes place in Russia and Germany in the years preceding World War II. The streets of Moscow are dominated by fear: every night the «Black Funnels“, the vehicles of the secret police, cart off so-called „enemies of the people“. No one could be sure who would be next. In Berlin, the devilish Hitler plans to conquer the world and to murder the Jews. The Russians and the Germans became hostages of two paranoids unified in a love-hate relationship and a dream of world domination.
It is not the fault of Dashkova’s protagonists that their youth and their love took place in these times. Masha, a ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater is in love with Ilya Krylov, the specialist in the “Special Sector” of the Central Committee of the Communist Party for Germany and thus responsible for collecting information related to this country. Ilya also loves Masha and understands that she could become a victim of the Kremlin Commissars, who love the “ballet girls”; but also as his wife she could suffer with him, since his life is hanging on a thread. Almost all professional intelligence agents and spies died in Stalin’s camps, and the new ones play up to Stalin by writing only about the threat of Trotzki, the object of the colossal and irrational hate of the ‘supreme leader’. He is certain that Hitler will attack the USSR. The only reliable source of information in Berlin is an agent with the code name “Elf”.
The person behind this name is the German journalist Gabrielle Diels, a woman of unusual beauty, adored by German housewives for her articles on skin care and the newest developments in the fashion world. Gabi loves Bruno, the man who arranged for her activity in the Russian intelligence services, but their meetings are seldom and top secret. In order to hide his spying activity and her love for a Jew, Gabi pretends to be the wife of an aristocrat and to help him conceal his homosexual inclinations.
The paths of all these people cross thanks to Karl Stern, a psychiatrist who cured Hitler of his hysterical blindness after he was wounded in WWI. Due to his close connection Hitler, Stern has many patients among the Nazi elite: Goering, Goebbels, Röhm, and others. The doctor hates this gang of psychopaths and drug addicts and understands that a catastrophe is immanent, and thus decides to emigrate to Switzerland while pretending to take a summer vacation with his family. Colonel Paul Wirte agrees to take them along on his airplane, but the doctor winds up having to stay in Berlin for one more day. In the following night, several thousand people were murdered, including the leadership of the SA, including Ernst Röhm himself. The motor of Wirte’s plane is sabotaged , and the Dr. Stern’s family dies with him when the aircraft crashes.
On the advice of Bruno, Stern flees to the USSR. He had thought that nothing could be worse than Hitler, but in Moscow hell on earth awaits him. The doctor sympathizes with Ilya is even satisfied with life in the communal apartment, being particularly happy about his friendship with Masha, who is his neighbor. But he is forced to work in a secret laboratory on a truth serum where political prisoners serve as guinea pigs.
Ilya understands that the life of his best agent is in danger. “Elf” has already been selected for arrest, and her next report could turn out to be her last. No one is in a position to stop the epidemic of collective insanity in the USSR and the Third Reich. But perhaps it is possible to save the life of one person, even if it is someone distant and unknown….
In this historical novel, real historical figures and fictional ones are to be found together on the same stage. But even the fictional ones have real prototypes. For instance, the prototype of Gabi is Ilse Stöbe, a young German journalist who was the first one to report on the impending attack on the USSR. In the novel, Gabi survives, while in reality Ilse Stöbe was arrested by the Gestapo on the day of her wedding and guillotined.
Aside from a broad panorama of prewar life in the USSR and the Third Reich, Dashkova tells of the lives, troubles and loves of people of these terrible times. «The queen of the Russian detective novel» has written an extremely engrossing historical thriller.