St. Petersburg, 1914: imposing and shabby, monumental and squalid, and, under its surface of frosty glamour, seething with plots and secret allegiances. On a blustery March day, O. V. Gulko, a respected newspaper editor, is murdered in front of a shocked crowd. Five days later Dr. Otto Spethmann, the famous psychoanalyst, receives a visit from the police. There has been another murder in the city and somehow he is implicated. He is mystified - and deeply worried, as much for his young, spirited daughter as for himself." "Meanwhile, he is preoccupied by two new patients: Anna Petrovna, the society beauty plagued by nightmares with whom he is steadily and inappropriately falling in love, and the brilliant but fragile chess genius, Avrom Rozental, who, on the verge of complete breakdown, must now play in the most important tournament of his life." "With the city rife with speculation and alarm, Spethman broods over his own chessboard, its pieces frozen mid-battle, and contemplates the many forces - political, historical, sexual - that are holding him in their grasp.