Punishment of a Hunter by Yulia Yakovleva

moody | immersive | compelling

what it says on the cover …

1930s Leningrad. Stalin is tightening his grip on the Soviet Union, and a mood of fear cloaks the city. Detective Vasily Zaitsev is tasked with investigating a series of bizarre and seemingly motiveless homicides.

As the curious deaths continue, precious Old Master paintings start to disappear from the Hermitage collection. Could the crimes be connected? 

When Zaitsev sets about his investigations, he meets with obstruction at every turn. Soon even he comes under suspicion from the Soviet secret police.

The resolute detective must battle an increasingly dangerous political situation in his dogged quest to find the murderer―and stay alive.

PUBLISHED: 28th October 2021
SHELF: Historical Fiction | Murder Mystery
AUTHOR: Yulia Yakovleva
TRANSLATOR: Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
PUBLISHER: Pushkin Press
FORMATS: Hardback | Kindle | Paperback (24th Feb ’22)

Thank you to @PoppyBookPR for sending me a proof copy of #PunishmentOfAHunter by #YuliaYakovleva (published by @PushkinVertigo @PushkinPress)

my review

It’s no secret that I’ve got a bit of a ‘thing’ for novels set in Russia, so it won’t come as any surprise that I seized the opportunity to read this new work of historical fiction. Set in 1930’s Leningrad, Punishment of a Hunter taps right in to my favourite era of Russian history; the reign of Stalin.  It’s a fixation that I thank renowned Russian novelist, Simon Sebag Montefiore for igniting, and I was delighted to discover that Yulia Yakovleva also draws her inspiration from fact-rich moments in Russian history around which to craft moody and immersive fiction.

At first glance, Punishment of a Hunter is a murder mystery novel.  But there’s so much more to this book than it’s moody settings, macabre murders, and plot twists … it’s the strong social and political backdrop that most appealed to me.  Soviet authenticity seeps into every aspect of the story; the pervasive distrust, the fear and deprivation, the disparities that defy every sense of communism, the heavily loaded character dialogues. 

The author has woven her novel around the true story of a time when the Soviet government secretly sold some of the nation’s most valuable paintings from Leningrad’s stunning Hermitage Museum to western collectors. It was a betrayal they would stop at nothing to hide, and in Yakovleva’s novel, Detective Vasya Zaitsev of the Criminal Investigation Department finds himself embroiled in a corrupt conspiracy of murder, imprisonment, and lies.  

As is so often the case for me, I found myself so intrigued by the real world inspiration of the book that I deviated for a while, reading about the fact-stranger-than-fiction events online.  If you’re like me, here’s a link to whet your appetite.

I could feel the author’s love of theatre in the way she’s structured the chapters of Punishment of a Hunter, with each one being broken down into a sequence of vivid, self-contained ’acts’.  This approach, coupled with the truly fascinating plot combine to form a unique, fresh historical fiction mystery suffused in authenticity.  Character names and locations were faithfully Russian, so whilst I found my reading pace ‘snagged’ on the correct pronunciation, I wouldn’t begrudge the story the integrity of these details. They adeptly enhanced the sensation of having been transported to this chilly, unnerving world.

Punishment of a Hunter is an engrossing, intriguing mystery that also leaves you more informed at its end.  I’d recommend this novel to any fans of sound, reader-involving puzzles, and to people who enjoy well-informed and intricately researched historical fiction.  This has been the first novel by Yulia Yakovleva that I’ve read, and I’m really hoping there’s more to come from her … I’ll be keeping a watchful eye out.


‘Yakovleva writes with an expert and deep knowledge of the period,
and she simply writes well.’

‘The novel’s main hero is the time period, a time marked by Petersburg’s
impotency and beauty, steel and blood.’

‘Yulia Yakovleva leads the hero (as well as the reader) through every
circle of Soviet hell, to a bright finale that offers both satisfaction from how
the plot wraps up as well as the suggestion of an opening for a sequel.’


bookshop.org | waterstones.com | amazon.co.uk

author bio

photo from pushkinpress.com

Yulia Yakovleva is a writer, theatre and ballet critic, and playwright. She was inspired to write Punishment of a Hunter by her love of St Petersburg, where she grew up, and by the extraordinary true story of how the Soviet government sold most of the greatest, most famous old paintings from the former Tsar’s collection. The novel subsequently became a bestseller in Russia.

She is the author of a nonfiction title, ABC of Ballet (NLO, 2006) and a series of fiction books for children, Leningrad’s Tales. Yakovleva received her MA from School of Creative Arts of the University of Hertfordshire. She lives in Oslo, Norway, with her husband and son.

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