This novella is a fictionalized account of the assassination of the German ambassador to Russia, Count Mirbach, in July 1918. The assassination was used by the Bolsheviks as a justification for shutting down the Left Socialist Revolutionary Party, at this point the only party politically allied with them (the rest had been crushed).
Its main theme is an examination of the conflicting historical ideas of the “great man” who changes history, and the more deterministic idea that we are agents/pawns of history. One of the two assasin-protagonists, Blumkin, represents the former idea – he goes on to have a very real impact on the lives of millions of people in Ukraine, Turkey, Mongolia and Russia. The other, Andreyev, appears on the historical stage in spring 1918 and by fall has disappeared again.