The fearless investigative reporter Tatiana Petrovna falls to her death from a sixth-floor window in Moscow the same week that a mob billionaire, Grisha Grigorenko, is shot and buried with the trappings due a lord. No one makes the connection, but Arkady is transfixed by the tapes he discovers of Tatianas voice, even as she describes horrific crimes hidden by official versions.
The trail leads to Kaliningrad, a Cold War secret city and home of the Baltic Fleet, separated by hundreds of miles from the rest of Russia. Arkady delves into Tatianas past and a surreal world of wandering dunes and amber mines. His only link is a notebook written in the personal code of a translator whose body is found in the dunes. Arkadys only hope of decoding the symbols lies in Zhenya, a teenage chess hustler.