Arrests are made in the middle of the night and the fear is palatable in Moscow, 1936. The Stalinist purges have begun and the wrong word or gesture could send someone to the Zone. When an American citizen is found tortured and murdered in a former church, Captain Alexei Dmitriyevich Korolev of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Militia is sent to investigate. Since the victim is an American, the NKVD, the secret police, becomes involved, and Korolev has to report to the organization that is responsible for many of the arrests.
It isn’t long before another victim turns up, but this time it’s a known thief who is part of Moscow’s underworld. Though the two victims appear to have no links they share the same murderer. The NKVD knows more than they are saying, and Korolev walks a fine line as he tries to pry any information from the authorities. Not sure who to trust, Korolev is still determined to find the killer even after he realizes that he is being watched.
In The Holy Thief by William Ryan the fear from the purges heightens the intensity of this mystery, since Korolev could just as easily lose his life because of the NKVD as well as the danger from the murderer. Vividly portrayed, Korolev is a man caught between his loyalty to his country and the atrocities that have begun. This is a fast moving mystery that is hard to put down.