The story, set in late 1999 and early 2000, revolves around Russian presidential candidate Igor Komarov, head of the right-wing Union of Patriotic Forces (UPF).
A highly popular and charismatic politician, victory was all but guarenteed for Komarov and the UPF. However, a secret document, later known as the
Black Manifesto, was stolen from his secretary's empty office at UPF headquarters by Leonid Zaitsev, the elderly janitor and ex-soldier, who happens to skim through the document while cleaning. The document contains extremely sensitive information regarding Komarov's future policies as president. The policies, such as restoration of slave camps, creation of a one-party state, destruction of political opponents, invasion of the neighbouring republics and genocide of Russia's ethnic and religious minorities, including Chechens and Jews, reveal the intentions of Komarov and his fascist UPF party.
Black Manifesto is taken to Great Britain, where it is translated and shown to influential Western leaders. Sir Nigel Irvine, the former head of the SIS, comes up with a plan to thwart Komarov's victory. Searching for a suitable man to carry out this plan, Carey Jordan, former Deputy Director of Operations at the CIA, recommends Jason Monk, a former recruiter and runner of Soviet agents for the CIA.
In parts of the novel, there are flashbacks to earlier years, detailing Jason Monk's background, and recruitment of several Soviets as U.S. agents. These include government figures and a physicist. However, CIA mole Aldrich Ames soon betrays these agents, along with all other CIA agents in the Soviet Union. Nearly all are rounded up by the Soviets, and are either executed or sentenced to hard labour after lengthy interrogation and torture by the ruthless Anatoli Grishin.
Colonel Nikolai Ilyich Turkin, the first Soviet to be recruited by Monk, develops a close friendship with him after Monk saves his son from dying of a tropical disease. He is, however, the last of the CIA assets to be rounded up by the Soviets, and the capture takes place right in front of Monk, who can only watch helplessly. Turkin is interrogated and sent to a labor camp. There, dying of typhoid, he pens a letter to Monk detailing his interrogation and torture at the camps, and bids a final farewell. Monk, filled with anger and grief, attacks a bureaucrat known to have aided Ames, and this leads to his expulsion from the CIA.
In 1999, he leads a quiet life in the Caicos Islands, taking tourists on fishing trips. Approached by Sir Nigel Irvine, he at first refuses to carry out the mission, having sworn never to return to Russia, but agrees when he is given the chance to take revenge on Grishin.
He returns to Russia and rounds up a ring of influential figures to his cause by showing them the
Black Manifesto, and, with the aid of the Chechen mafia, whose leader owes Monk his life, he begins a series of schemes aimed at derailing Igor Komarov's presidential campaign.