This is part of Martin Cruz Smith's long-running series set in contemporary Russia, featuring the akward, obstinate and brilliant detective Arkady Renko. In fact, the real star of these novels is Russia itself, as the twisting plotline is set against the backdrop of the post-Soviet state with all of its strange developments, political, sociological and criminal.
If you haven't read any of the earlier books in the series then the main plot won't be a problem, but much of the subtle backdrop will be lost on you, because you need to have developed a relationship with Renko, and an understanding of his personal situation, to feel the impact of events in this book.
Still, you don't need an in-depth knowledge of the characters to enjoy Cruz Smith's brilliant portrayal of the Russian winter, nor to understand the melancholic and nostalgic longing for Soviet-era order or how a military hero in Chechenya might rise to the top of a nationalistic political party.
There's also a good mystery to unravel. Why did travellers start seeing Stalin's ghost at an underground railway station? (And, of course, the deeper meaning of the title: how much of Russia is still dominated by Stalin's shadow?)
This isn't a page-turning, rip-snorting action thriller. Very often the most shocking moments come in mundane situations, when you least expect them. So it's best to pace the reading a little, enjoy the concise, well-crafted text, and let the Russian ambience surround you for a while so you get the most from the clever revelations as they jump out and grab you.
Thoroughly recommended for lovers of thoughtful political thrillers.