Moscow, 1936, and Stalin's Great Terror is beginning. In a deconsecrated church, a young woman is found dead, her mutilated body displayed on the altar for all to see. Captain Alexei Dmitriyevich Korolev, finally beginning to enjoy the benefits of his success with the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Militia, is asked to investigate. But when he discovers that the victim is an American citizen, the NKVD -- Russia's most feared organization -- becomes involved. Soon Korolev's every step is under close scrutiny and one false move will mean exile to the Zone, where the enemies of the Soviet State, both real and imagined, meet their fate in the frozen camps of the far north. Committed to uncovering the truth behind the gruesome murder, Korolev enters the realm of the Thieves who run Moscow's underworld. As more bodies are discovered and the pressure from above builds, Korolev begins to question who he can trust and who, in a Russia where fear, uncertainty, and hunger prevail, are the real criminals. Soon he finds not only his moral and political ideals threatened, but also his life.