The Distinguished Assassin is set in Russia in 1952. It was the time of Stalin, the system the Russian people live under is harsh and unforgiving. We follow Aleksei Klebnikov, a professor who lives with his wife, Natasha, and his daughter, Katya. He is happy enough, despite the food shortages and does his best to conform to the party line.
Unfortunately his wife has caught the eye of Vladimir Primakov, a MVD officer. Aleksei is wrongfully accused and sent to the Gulag, a place called Kolyma in the far East of Russia. It is a hard labour camp where the guards are vindictive with no regard for human life. The weather is bleak and harsh, drawing all hope out of the prisoners. Only the strong survive, fortunately Aleksei has the memories of his family to help him though the ordeal.
While here Aleksei comes to the attention of Ivan Ivanovich, a gangster. He is offered a mission for when he gets out, he must kill six leading communists who have abused their position for personal gain. He needs to complete the kills within a year. At first Aleksei refuses but finally he realises that this is how he can secure his future after release.
We follow Aleksei’s journey though the harsh conditions of the prison to his release and his realisation that he has to kill these men. He has to put aside his conscience in order to carry out the task and we see his character change as he goes about the assassinations. The book is brutal, it really portrays the harsh conditions Aleksei has to face in the Gulag and you can really feel the cold biting into your soul. It gives you an insight into how a person can change in order to survive and the terror that Soviet citizens must have faced every day. A riveting book with an unexpected twist at the end, definitely a must read.