In Yakovleva’s Punishment of a Hunter (Pushkin Vertigo, Oct.), Insp. Vasily Zaitsev of the Leningrad Criminal Investigation Department seeks the truth, and justice, in the Soviet Union of the 1930s.

What led you to examine the Soviet Union under Stalin through a crime fiction lens after doing so in children’s novels?

The idea that nobody had done it before, first of all. It’s not just a crime novel with Stalinist Soviet Union as a background, but I tried to express the spirit, the vibe, the zeitgeist of that era through the crime genre. I tried to imagine what it was like to be an ordinary person in Soviet Leningrad in the 1930s. I was thinking of the everyday feeling of being hunted, that every minute can turn unpredictable, most likely in a horrible way. And I found it exciting that this “ordinary person” is a policeman, that is to say a hunter. He hunts, and is hunted, at the same time.

Where did the idea of a killer posing victims very elaborately come from?

From my twisted mind, I’m afraid. I grew up in St. Petersburg, and it’s hardly an exaggeration that I used to visit the Hermitage every week. It’s a great place to walk, especially in wintertime. If you have just once experienced the winter wind in St. Petersburg, you cannot forget it, trust me. I visited the painting collection with no clue, and no interest, as to who the painters were, which style or era they represented, but I had an impression of almost wax-looking, or almost blue, bodies and faces, and I thought disgusting, they look like they’re dead. So much later, when I was thinking about this book, this impression just popped up.

What surprised you the most from researching the period?

How people managed to keep living in two dimensions simultaneously. In the first one, you enjoy your work or your art, you are in love, you have fun with your friends, you have ambitions, you simply enjoy life, both in its greatest and most trivial pleasures, like nice weather, the sea, or ice cream. In the other dimension, you feel nothing but the wall of horror, darkness, sorrow, pain, fear, and anger around. I must add that after Putin invaded Ukraine, I could see myself how it is possible.

How has this series been received in Russia?

It became a bestseller and opened the door to a huge wave of Soviet retro crime novels of different kinds. The Soviet era is the biggest obsession of Russian culture of Putin’s time. Suddenly, tons of people said to themselves, “Aha! I have also something to say about it.”