Daria Desombre: The Sin Collector

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Daria Desombre The Sin Collector
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    The Sin Collector
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The Sin Collector: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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In this thrilling debut novel from Russia, a brilliant law student investigates a series of recent killings and uncovers the dark terrors of medieval Moscow. Ever since the unsolved murder of her father, law student Masha Karavay has nursed an obsession with homicide cases. When she nabs an internship with Moscow’s Central Directorate Headquarters, seasoned detective Andrey Yakovlev gives her a file of bizarre, seemingly unrelated slayings that should keep her busy and out of his way. But when Masha discerns a connection between the crimes and the symbolic world of medieval Moscow, she has Andrey’s full attention. The victims weren’t just abandoned… they were displayed—from Red Square to Kutafya Tower to the Bersenevskaya waterfront. What Masha and Andrey are dealing with is no ordinary serial killer, but rather a psycho with an unfathomable purpose, guided by sacred texts to punish his victims in the most unspeakable—and public—ways. As each clue leads deeper into a maze of fanaticism and medieval ritual, all that stands between the terrors of ancient Moscow and a series of murders defiling a modern city is Masha and the killer himself. Soon, their personal obsessions will collide.

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Daria Desombre


“Are you not seekers of the City of God? You, who have lost your native city, and now labor in the name of the City Itself?”

Ivan Shmelev

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster in the process.”

Friedrich Nietzsche


So cold, such a cold! Vera, also known as the Washpile, stood in the middle of Red Square. Though she was a veteran bum, this cold was too much even for her. She had never liked public squares, but especially hated this one. She felt small and alone, exposed. She told herself it was just the lurking cops making her nervous, but some sort of animal instinct insisted that danger was hiding up above. When you stand in the middle of Red Square, on the raised fortress wall around Lobnoye Mesto, right where everyone says they used to have public executions, you may as well be offering yourself up to the heavens.

Vera looked around and scolded herself. What had she limped up here for? It was too early for foreigners, who would sometimes give her a hundred rubles. Not even any GUM department store clerks around yet. There were a few students heading home from their night out, but nothing good ever came from those types.

And it was cold, so, so cold! The wind was blowing, too. Vera got so profoundly lonely on these gloomy mornings that she felt like getting loaded right then and there. But she had no money and no way to get any.

And then, suddenly, it seemed like the good God above was waggling a finger at her and saying something, something like, O Vera, servant of God! You are but dust, of course, and ashes, but that’s all right—here’s a little something, from me to you!

There, near the fence that surrounded St. Basil’s Cathedral, there was a big, gorgeous, white plastic bag with the GUM logo on it. Vera practically shivered with excitement. Inside that bag was God’s gift for her. She was sure of it! She turned toward the cathedral, crossed herself in gratitude, and hurried to claim her prize. The bag held something wrapped in white paper, which was stained with brown splotches. Vera pulled off her torn gloves and unwrapped the bundle to reveal something long, pasty white, and covered in sparse black hair. It ended in fingers clamped tightly together, gripping some sort of small picture. A painting. It showed a dark, strange-looking tree set off by an ultramarine sky. And a cow with human eyes looking straight into Vera’s soul.

A few seconds passed while she considered the sight. Then Vera screamed one long note like an opera singer.

As she fell flat on her face on the ancient, mighty cobblestones of Red Square, she just managed—before she succumbed to the abyss—to see two police officers running in her direction.


Masha woke up a couple of minutes before her alarm went off and lay there, staring fixedly at the wall across the room. Her father’s favorite Turkish carpet hung on that wall, one part shining bright red in a patch of sunlight, the rest a dull, shadowy carmine with black ornaments touched with blue.

Hanging over the carpet was a shelf holding the books from Masha’s childhood that she refused to give away. She sometimes read fifty pages at a time without her mother knowing, pulling out a tattered volume at random and letting it fall open. Sometimes it was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, sometimes Jane Austen or a Brontë sister. She loved perusing the pages she knew almost by heart. Other people liked to look through old photo albums, smiling nostalgically at the pictures from their childhood. But for Masha, photo albums were a chore. Pictures from before she turned twelve were no fun because her father was in them. In pictures from after, the problem was that he wasn’t.

From the other side of the wall came sounds of rustling sheets and labored breathing, and Masha, as always, shrunk away. Her mother usually spoke in precise, clinical terms, but she had once given in to mawkishness and called this particular activity “deliverance from solitude.” As far as Masha could tell—why did these walls have to be so thin?—her mother underwent the process of being delivered from solitude a couple of times per week. And every time it happened, Masha felt less like an honor-roll student, less like a bright-but-not-quite-beautiful young woman, and more like a queasy little girl left behind on the platform, watching the train pull away.

It was a very unpleasant feeling, and a humiliating one. It would be stupid to blame Belov, the stranger who washed in their bathroom and brewed his own special coffee in their kitchen, for—well, for what? For taking her father’s place? Or just for not being her papa? Yes, that was it. He was the UnPapa. The UnPapa sensed Masha’s antagonism and, capable psychologist that he was, took Masha’s side when things were rough with her mother, let her have plenty of space, and gave her silly presents. This alarm clock, for example, which played snippets of Glenn Miller swing tunes.

Just now the alarm clock sprang to life, and Masha vengefully let it play to the end. By the time the thing quieted down, the rustling in the next room had, too. Masha giggled and stretched. Glenn Miller was a little like Belov. He was great, sure, but nobody could stand swing music every morning. Masha picked her watch up off the nightstand, and gave her daily nod to the photograph hanging on the wall. It was a portrait of a man with a long, thin face and an ironic squint, whose hint of a receding hairline made his forehead look even higher.

“Morning, Papa,” said Masha. “Why’d you have to go and get murdered?”


Andrey opened his eyes and nearly screamed bloody murder, but then he realized this enormous, shaggy, stinking face was not a beast out of his worst nightmares. It was only the result of yesterday’s very unmacho bout of pity and temporary insanity.

As usual, he’d come home around eleven from police headquarters at Petrovka, tired as a dog, and stopped to buy some bread at the twenty-four-hour shop near his house. An actual dog was sitting outside the shop, scratching himself in a frenzy. While Andrey sipped his well-earned bottle of Baltika, he and the dog had a chat. Basically, Andrey talked about his own doggone life: his terrible but manly loneliness, how fed up he was with “ladies” (he didn’t have to watch himself with the dog—we all know what they call the females of that species), how he worked himself ragged and lived on junk food. He also bragged a little about his culinary feat of the previous evening. He had fried ten frozen meat patties, and tonight he would warm them up in the microwave.

That had turned out to be a strategic error. The stray was no idiot. Sure, he had listened with sympathy and respect to Andrey’s sad tales of bachelor life, but when it came to meat—well. The dog’s eyes gleamed even more pitifully, and his tail beat on the cracked asphalt. Since Andrey was feeling generous after the Baltika, he invited the dog home. He thought he’d toss a patty onto the porch. Men had to stick together, after all.

But the mutt had different plans. He followed Andrey into the makeshift kitchen and sat there staring with eyes bigger and sadder than any orphan’s until Andrey had fed him not one, but five of the patties. He didn’t even chew them like a civilized dog—just gulped each one down whole, and noisily.

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