Inspector Vladimir Lesnoy of the Moscow Detective Department receives a new lead in a case he has been working on for years – the case of a brutal serial killer. As he sets off for Yaroslavsky railway station to board the Trans-Siberian Express, he hears reports of a violent attack on a palace in Moscow, home to Count Nikolai Shuysky and his family.
At the railway station, Lesnoy notices several characters who stand out from the crowd: two young women, looking terrified; a man in his forties, with an odd accent, who is sending a suspicious telegram; an attractive couple in their thirties, the wife a pale beauty with whom Lesnoy once had a relationship. As he waits to board the train, Lesnoy strikes up a conversation with a bank official who is on the platform overseeing the loading of a valuable cargo of gold bullion that is being transported to Vladivostok.
The story moves back twenty-three years when Countess Anastasia Shuyskaya dies soon after giving birth to baby Tatiana. Four months later her maid, Irina, also dies giving birth to a daughter, Sofia. The two little girls grow up as friends, but as they become teenagers their lives diverge to cast Tatiana as mistress and Sofia as her maid.
As time passes, the story introduces Ekaterina and Captain Pavel Ozertsov, a wealthy couple whose relationship is tested when Pavel leaves his new bride to fight in the Great War and Ekaterina is coerced into a relationship with a local policeman. Meanwhile, in England, a government agent, Dominic Hare, is being briefed on his next mission – to keep an eye on a shipment of gold being transported by train from Moscow to Vladivostok and thence by ship to the United Kingdom on behalf of the King’s cousin, the Tsar.
Tatiana’s twenty-third birthday approaches and social upheaval in Russia is increasingly inevitable. While Tatiana plans a lavish ball at the Shuysky palace, Sofia is drawn into the revolutionary movement and finds her loyalties torn.
In February 1917 all these characters find themselves on board the Trans-Siberian Express, in the first-class spalny vagon carriage, adjoining dining car and armoured wagon holding the crates of gold. They are joined by Sofia’s acquaintance, Alexander Zhuravlev, a young revolutionary poet. As the train rolls slowly through the endless Siberian landscape, the characters get to know one another, romance blossoms and tensions start to simmer.
After skirting the southern shore of Lake Baikal, the train arrives at Verkhneudinsk, where Lesnoy is joining local police to apprehend the serial killer. However, a murder on board throws everything into disarray and the crime must be solved before the end of the journey…
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