Undoubtedly this is a remarkable book and not at all what I was expecting as I first picked it up. I would recommend that the reader cast aside any preconceived ideas about this author and about the mid-Victorian era in which his story takes place, because this book really does have a very modern feel and a very accessible and easy prose and dialogue.
The reader first joins the tale as the morose, dejected down-and-out and former student Raskolnikov contemplates, and is inexorably drawn towards and fixated by the idea of, murdering an old lady pawnbroker with whom he has had business. It only becomes clear later exactly why he did so, and even then his justifications are misguided and muddled in his own mind and essentially some flight of fancy about the permissibility of any behaviour for the greater good - a means to an end, as it were.
But what is most fascinating is not the crime itself or the murderer's fate, but how his crime then comes to obsess him until he can stand it no longer and has been defeated by his own inner struggle with his conscience, which has been forever tormenting him. The dual between Porfiry Petrovich, the police investigator, and Raskolnikov and the mind games and double bluffs that are played on both sides as our antihero tries to evade detection is particularly intriguing. The suspense is palpable.
All in all this is a pretty bleak tale of suffering and a heart-rending one at that. But there is not just introspection, self-examination and 'philosophising' here, but also action, suspense, pathos and genuine sorrow in the ending, which managed to be profound without being sentimental or melodramatic.