Punishment of a Hunter

A Leningrad Confidential

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Pub Date 01 Nov 2022 | Archive Date 21 Oct 2022
Pushkin Press, Pushkin Vertigo

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“Outstanding... Yakovleva perfectly balances evoking the terror of living in a police state with her whodunit plotline. Fans will hope to see much more of Zaitsev.”  --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

The debut of the ultimate noir detective series: set in Stalinist Russia, riddled with corruption, informers, and purges that takes paranoia to the next level

Perfect for readers of John Banville, Philip Kerr, and Lara Prescott's The Secrets We Kept, and for fans of the international Netflix sensation Babylon Berlin

1930s Leningrad. Stalin is tightening his grip on the Soviet Union, and a mood of fear cloaks the city. Detective Vasily Zaitsev is tasked with investigating a series of bizarre and seemingly motiveless homicides.

As the curious deaths continue, precious Old Master paintings start to disappear from the Hermitage collection. Could the crimes be connected?

When Zaitsev sets about his investigations, he meets with obstruction at every turn. Soon even he comes under suspicion from the Soviet secret police.

The resolute detective must battle an increasingly dangerous political situation in his dogged quest to find the murderer―and stay alive.

“Leads the hero (as well as the reader) through every circle of soviet hell, to a bright finale.” --Medusa
“Outstanding... Yakovleva perfectly balances evoking the terror of living in a police state with her whodunit plotline. Fans will hope to see much more of Zaitsev.”  --Publishers Weekly (starred...

Advance Praise

“Outstanding... Yakovleva perfectly balances evoking the terror of living in a police state with her whodunit plotline. Fans of Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko will hope to see much more of Zaitsev.”
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Outstanding... Yakovleva perfectly balances evoking the terror of living in a police state with her whodunit plotline. Fans of Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko will hope to see much more of Zaitsev.”

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ISBN 9781782276791
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Featured Reviews

This was such a terrifying idea, it really worked well for the story being told. I enjoyed the way Yulia Yakovleva wrote this and wrote it in a realistic way. There was a tense atmosphere that I enjoyed and I was really glad to go on this journey.

"At the tram stop, people huddled together as one, their He couldn’t hear anything unusual. There was no noise heads turned towards the bridge, from where their tram was at all in the apartment, and this seemed to Zaitsev what was expected to appear."

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This is a dark and tense historical noir from Yulia Yakoleva that immerses the reader in 1930s Stalinist Russia and a dreary, grey and depressing Leningrad with its impoverished, stressed, exhausted population. The people live under a heavily oppressive regime, with the OGPU (KGB of the era) and its informants everywhere, where no-one can be trusted, it's common for people to 'disappear', living in fear of denunciations and the frequent 'purges' and where paranoia and political corruption is rife. Vasily 'Vasya' Zaitsev is a police officer at the Leningrad Criminal Investigations Department headed by Kopteltsev. He finds himself at a murder scene, the home of victim 34 year old Faina Baranova, a bookkeeper, strangely posed with a red curtain, dress, and feather duster. Who on earth would want to kill her? There is the added suspicion of Klim Nefyodov, recruited to reinforce the police, with his links to the OGPU.

There are numerous obstacles placed in Zaitsev's path, there are difficulties with witnesses or anyone else being reluctant to talk, and the authorities are not keen to leave him a free man. However, his expertise is sought at a sickening crime scene at Yelagon Park with political ramifications, there are multiple murder victims posed, one of whom is a Black American communist, an engineer working at Russian Diesel. There is a connection with the murder of Baranova, only for the evidence of this to disappear from the police case files. A doggedly determined Zaitsev slowly begins to become aware of famous paintings at The Hermitage going missing, paintings that oddly might appear to have something to do with the deaths he is looking into. Will he survive long enough to arrive at the truth?

There cannot be many more difficult circumstances for a complex police inquiry than those Zaitsev faces as a hononorable investigator in search of the truth, he lives in a historical period and in a corrupt country where truth and justice are expendable commodities and where life is cheap. This is a fascinating and gripping historical read that paints an all too authentic picture of life in Stalinist Russia and where the pursuit of truth brings danger and grave threats to life. This will appeal to readers interested in Russian history and the grim realities of living under the Stalinist regime in Leningrad. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.

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*Many thanks to Yulia Yakovleva, Pushkin Press, and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.*
I admit that what kept me invested more than the mystery was the perfectly detailed panorama of Soviet Russia at the end of NEP and at the beginning of Stalinist terror. Descriptions of daily life, accomodation problems and the atmosphere that prevailed make superb background for the gory murders which are committed in Peter (Leningrad).

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Four stars for an entertaining mystery set in 1930 Leningrad, Russia. I thought that the translation was excellent. This book was a bestseller in Russia. Vasya Zaitsev is a police detective in charge of a homicide squad in the Leningrad Police. He and his team are called to the scene of a strange murder. Faina Baranova has been posed by the murderer in clothes not her own. More murders take place that are seemingly unrelated, but the victims are also posed. Zaitsev does finally put it all together, but not before he is arrested by the OGPU(secret police predecessor to KGB).
He is also attacked and almost killed.
The ending leaves one worrying about Zaitsev's future. He is warned that he could be arrested again.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in a policeman working against powerful people to solve murders.
Description of the first murder victim: "Behind her, the silk curtains formed a scarlet backdrop. Against the deep red, her velvet dress seemed even blacker and the white rose even more dazzling. There was something almost theatrical about the contrast of scarlet, black and white, a contrast that was softened by the iridescence of the silk, the softness of the velvet and the tenderness of the petals."

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It’s fascinating to me when a crime novel presents a homicide detective who has to work within a totalitarian surveillance state. The detective doesn’t have to just worry about solving murder; he also must ensure that his actions and the solution accord with the demands of his political superiors. Making the wrong political move could mean the detective finds himself on the inside of prison bars—no matter how right his detection is.

This novel is set in 1930s Leningrad, just another gray, overcrowded city in the fear-drenched Stalinist era in the USSR. The food is terrible (and, as the old joke goes, such small portions!), families live in single rooms, clothing is inadequate to the weather. Criminal investigator Vasily Zaitsev is relatively lucky, because he has a small room to himself and he can get a meager meal at his work canteen. But he isn’t safe from the everyday fears of Stalinist purges, only being sprung from prison to help solve what seems to be a series of bizarre murders in which the victims are posed in mysterious tableaus.

What follows is Zaitsev’s dogged, compulsive quest to solve these crimes, despite being hampered at every turn by forces he doesn’t understand. This turns out to be a sort of historical novel as well as a police procedural, not just because of its setting, but also because the crimes relate to a lesser-known episode in Soviet history.

This is an intriguing change-of-pace mystery, well worth reading if you have any interest in the setting. I got the feel that some of the flavor is lost in the translation from Russian to English, but not enough to be bothersome.

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4/5 Very Good.

This is a fine historical thriller set in Stalin Russia 1930s.

Full of the politics and corruption and the oppression, the story’s itself is an atmospheric and intriguing tale of the era in which its set.

The protagonist, Vasya Zaitsev, is on the case of a murder of woman, found in a strange pose. No one wants to investigate the crime yet Zaitsev can feel there is more to this than suicide or just a murder of passion.

A quite intricate plot plays out, as stated it’s very political but then it’s really showing the time in which it’s set.

It’s great noir, it’s gets a bit literary as the story unfolds and art begins to play a large part, but this just adds to the fascination of this quite superb tale.

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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Pushkin Press for an advanced copy of this debut mystery set in the dark days of Stalin's Soviet Union.

Solving crime in a worker's paradise is not easy when everyone fears a knock on the door. The visitor could be a policeman asking questions about a dead body a few apartments down, two men in civilian garb who will make the occupant disappear into the night. Or even a serial killer with a taste for show with his or her own agenda. Fear is all around, one really is one more trouble. This is the feeling that permeates almost every page in Punishment of the Hunter, a noir mystery set in the darkest days of Stalin's Terror by writer Yulia Yakovleva and translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp.

Inspector Vasily Zaitsev and his investigative team arrive at the scene of a strange murder in a crowded apartment house. A woman has been killed, but nothing has been taken, nor was she known to have enemies. The only odd thing is that a feather duster had been left behind and the curtains changed in the apartment, something the older woman could not have done herself. Before Zaitsev can get the investigation going, he finds himself arrested, and thrown into prison for charges he knows not, but suspects that he knows why. Months later he is released, given a new coat, boots and his keys to his apartment back, and taken to another murder scene, this one featuring an black American defector, staged with other victims in a very showy way. Unsaid to him is that his freedom is dependent on his finding a credible murderer that can be blamed. If not prison awaits. Zaitsev must find out what the murders mean, who is doing them, and how they relate to governmental corruption and paintings disappearing from the Heritage Museum.

A very dark, very atmospheric, and very Russian story. The characters are very believable and true. Zaitsev is returned to his fellow cops, and they treat him differently as he is either a spy, guilty, or possibly innocent, but tainted. People casually betray each other, mostly before the other person can do it to them. There is no trust, or even a sense that what they are doing makes any sense at all. The ending is a little vague, but that is a Russian ending. Life is cloudy, and nebulous, so should a mystery. The writing is very descriptive and in many ways beautiful. Crowd scenes are rendered in such a wonderful way, attitudes explained in easy words, and the full dread of Soviet life seems so clear. Not just a good mystery but a wonderful historical novel about a very dark time in history.

Recommended for reader who like there mysteries with nothing cozy about them. This is a rough book, both in crimes and the crimes being perpetrated right in front of everyone. The characters are people I want to read more about, and hope they survive a time that will only get worse, with the looming cloud of a world war. A very good start to a promising series.

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I loved this for so many reasons. It’s a great mystery, it’s well written (and translated) and it offers a completely new cultural perspective to my usual reading choices. Dark and challenging at times, this is a true detective novel in many ways, but it also offers much more than that. You could read this just to enjoy the writing style or the setting.

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This was such a good read and it was completely believable which made it even more terrifying and dark. I couldn't put it down, I lost sleep to keep reading. I would highly recommend this book

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The title of this book refers to a painting by a sixteenth century Dutch painter (Paulus Potter) where 'a hunter and his dog' are killed by the animals of the forest (as retribution for his crimes). The story here is tangential to the story in the painting. It's the early thirties in Soviet Russia at a time when everyone is suspect.

Detective Zaitsev has just returned to his, job from prison, having originally being falsely accused of anti-Soviet actions. He is given a series of seven odd crimes to investigated. Each of the murdered people have been posed in such a way to represent a tableau, such as sitting in a chair with a feather duster. None of the victims of these seven victims have no intersecting jobs, background or education.

So why have they been murdered? Could their deaths be related to a totally different reason? That's Zaitsev's remit.

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Punishment of a Hunter by Yulia Yakovleva is a claustrophobic murder mystery set in post-revolutionary Leningrad. Investigator Vasily Zaitsev finds a neighbour murdered and bizarrely posed. Not long after he's on the scene of a mass killing where the victim's'bodies appear to have turned into a sick tableaux complete with hairpieces and costumes. In an atmosphere where no-one trusts anyone else , and suspecting that there are those trying to hinder his investigations into the continuing series of bizarre murders, ,Zaitev finds himself under the sinister gaze of the Soviet Secret Police and an unexpected career break. On his return ,and typically of the times,Zaitev finds he has support from some political quarters and apparent obstruction from others as he investigates the killings and the disappearance of valuable artworks from the Hermitage Collection.

This is a very clever and quite complex story as neither the reader nor Zaitev knows who is friend or foe. The Leningrad of the times is perfectly drawn with it's sleazy bars, the masses living in tiny rooms in formerly magnificent Mansions sectioned off and people by the poor and desperate,the suspicion and paranoia of an authoritarian police state. Zaitev is a great character,almost an earlier Arkady Renko, a man trying to do the right thing in a place where that's not always a great career move.

I did have a couple of issues with the book. This being a translation of a best selling Russian there were quite a few references to real-life characters ,cultural references and events that I had no clue about,some footnotes would have been very welcome. The other was that a few times in the book I got a feeling that it was a sequel and one important part in particular of Zaitev's past was mentioned with little detail when there was definitely " a story" to be told there that I suspected might have been part of an earlier book.

Overall a very enjoyable read,the minor niggles are common to translated work and hopefully there are more Vasily Zaitev books to come.

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