Russian millions, a missing couple and a UN official sucked into an intrigue by his own naive curiosity.
High on one of the most dangerous glaciers in the Alps a couple go missing. Meanwhile a former Russian spetznaz special forces officer with a fiersome reputation ransacks their Paris flat.
Are they dead or have they engineered their own demise? And why should a naive UN official let curiosity get the better of himself and follow a trail which will only lead to torment?
What are the links that will take him across Europe to Istanbul and the human misery escaping strife in Chechnya and the Caucasus.
The secret might lie with a patient in a nursing hoem in the north of England.
Petr Kornilov looked down at his shiny black toe caps. Yes, maybe he could just see the reflection of his face in their lustre.
He had beaten men with less glossy shoes in his days at the Spetnaz academy at Ryazan south of Moscow. Discipline was good in those Soviet times and it would be again. Personal standards would not slip now.
The creases in his trousers led vertically upwards over the dome of his knees. Crisp and neat. His manicured finger nails pristine.
He adjusted his red woven silk tie and pressed the ancient doorbell.
Pauline Ducros, 68 but feeling 75 from years of cleaning the stairs right the way up to the top of the apartments shuffled to the door.
She placed her left eye to the spy hole and attempted to focus through the fish eye. Decently dressed, looks a gentleman, she thought.
Kornilov could sense her stare and smiled.
"Un moment." There was no knack to turning the large brass doorknob that opened the heavy black door to the six storey block in the 16th arondissement of Paris. It had never been easy to turn.
The door slowly eased open, etching the same scratches across the black and white tiled hallway it had always done.
"M'sieur?" Mme Ducros wiped her hands on her apron to remove the musty brass smell of the handle and gestured the subtle smile she usually gave to gentlemen in the direction of the Russian.
Kornilov's glossy right toe cap stepped forward onto the tiles. His right hand pushed against Pauline's face and brushed the old lady aside. She stumbled first against the side of the stairs then slumped onto the floor face down on the scratched black and white tiles.
"Marc Chopinet?" said the Russian sharply. "Marc Chopinet?"
Mme Ducros struggled to find her breath, gasping. Her heart felt high in her chest, her stomach wanted to vomit from the shock of the violence.
"Chopinet?" Kornilov asked again. There was no raised voice, no anger in the tone just a frightening firmness.
"Marc Chopinet. Where is he?"
"Third floor," Mme Ducros murmured through a rasping breath still facing the floor. "Up there, 3B."
Kornilov ran briskly up the stairs two at a time. He tried the door handle but it stayed still. He threw his shoulder at the door of 3B. Below Pauline could hear the sound of ancient splintering wood as she lay on the cold tiles.
The door opened immediately.
An instant assessment. Kornilov looked on a scene of clothes strewn across the bed, cupboard door wide open, wardrobe still ajar. In the small kitchen a half baguette lay on a chopping board. Rock hard.