All of Russia – well, urban Russia anyway – is in turmoil in the middle of the nineteenth century and a semi-voluntary émigré, living in Germany, returns to the city of St Petersburg to establish the circumstances surrounding the death of his foster son. The son, Pavel, has apparently become embroiled in the notorious Nechaev gang of revolutionaries, who seem to be pursuing a campaign of anarchistic terror. Pavel himself is reported to have left behind papers, amongst which is a list of people to be assassinated. The step-father is a well-known novelist and an intellectual and, in Czarist Russia with its reliance on the secret police and suppression of political dissidence, this makes him automatically a figure of suspicion.
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