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A Gentle Axe: St Petersburg Mystery [Paperback]

R. N. Morris
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
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Book Description

7 Feb 2008 St. Petersburg Mystery
An atmospheric mystery set in St Petersburg in the winter of 1867 sees detective Porfiry Petrovich taking his first murder case since Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. When two frozen bodies are found in a park, he begins to suspect that the truth may be more complex than others wish him to believe, as his investigations lead him to a shocking discovery which reveals the city's darkest secrets. A Gentle Axe is utterly absorbing and tense from its dramatic opening through to its shocking climax.

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A Gentle Axe: St Petersburg Mystery + A Vengeful Longing + The Cleansing Flames (St Petersburg Mystery)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (7 Feb 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571238572
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571238576
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 504,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

R.N. Morris was born in Manchester, England, in 1960 and now lives in North London with his wife and two children. He sold his first short story to a teenage girls' magazine while still a student at Cambridge University, where he read classics. Making his living as a freelance copywriter, he has continued to write, and occasionally publish, fiction, including Taking Comfort (2006) written as Roger Morris.

One of his stories, "The Devil's Drum," was turned into a one-act opera, which was performed at the Purcell Room in London's South Bank. Another, "Revenants," was published as a comic book. A Vengeful Longing is the follow-up to his first novel written as R.N. Morris, the historical crime novel A Gentle Axe. A Razor Wrapped in Silk, the third in the series featuring Porfiry Petrovich from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, was published in April 2010.

A Vengeful Longing was short-listed for the 2008 CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger for best crime novel, runner-up in New York Magazine's Culture Awards for 2008 in the best thriller category, and Highly Commended for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Crime Novel Award 2008. It was also picked out by Crime Squad as one of the top ten crime books of 2008.

He has recently collaborated with the composer Ed Hughes on the opera, Cocteau in the Underworld.


Product Description

Review

"'Vivid and convincing... keeps the reader guessing until the end.' Independent"

Book Description

A riveting, richly-textured historical crime novel inspired by Dostoievsky's classic Crime and Punishment.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Hard Act to follow? 13 Mar 2007
Format:Paperback
If you are going to steal, steal from the best. And so Morris lifts his detective from no less a novelist than Dostoyevsky, extending the career of Porfiry Petrovich, the investigator from Crime and Punishment (for the less high brow among us, Porfiry also served as the original model for TV's Columbo).

Naturally Crime and Punishment casts a large shadow over Morris's belated sequel, and not just because it takes place after the events in Dostoyevsky's masterpiece. There is an impoverished student reminiscent of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, a resemblance which does not go unnoticed or unremarked by Porfiry. Dour Russian minds are preoccupied by matters of morality, mortality and immortality, or absence thereof, characters living in close proximity are separated by gulfs of class and the intellectual appetites of Imperial Russia allow Orthodox believers to happily publish atheist philosophy

Morris does allow 21st century permissiveness to take him further than even Fyodor would have dared with prostitution and child pornography given more graphic treatment than any Victorian era author would have dared, while the crime Porfiry investigates is more grotesque than the simple bashing of a couple of old women to death with an axe as the body of a murdered dwarf is found packed in a suitcase close to where a burly peasant is hanging from a tree. An obvious case of murder and suicide, Porfiry's bosses decide, and not worth investigating. Porfiry naturally sees more to it than that, but it is only when a minor prince reports the disappearance of an actor friend that he finds another angle from which to pursue his investigation.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More "Crime and Punishmant" ! 1 April 2009
Format:Paperback
St. Petersburg 1866. Part buried in a local park is the snow covered body of a dwarf; nearby in a birch tree hangs another body, large and bearded, possibly the criminal perpetrator. On the first body are found a set of obscene playing cards, on the other the axe of the title.
From the outset the examining magistrate Porfiry Petrovich is suspicious of the murder/suicide theory. This character has been "borrowed" from Dostoevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT one year earlier and THE GENTLE AXE offers echoes of that Russian classic. Also Porfiry is a fan of the work of Gogol, an actor recites from Gogol's THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR and souls seem to be available for barter (cf. Gorky's DEAD SOULS).
It is the exploration of the atmosphere and life of urban Russia in the C19 that most distinguishes this historical crime novel. Morris moves Porfiry easily and confidently through the various levels of society, as he encounters women of the night, actors, street urchins, publishers, impoverished students, policemen, local officials and even a prince .
The result is a novel that draws on old and new generic features. It is a police procedural describing Porfiry's relationship with superiors and with "junior" colleagues, as well as the medical examiner. But it has a high body count and does not flinch from the blood and gore of crime scenes. Morris writes with flair and precision. This highly successful novel augurs well for the series.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Wordy 2 May 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a cleverly plotted book but unfortunately I didn't enjoy it. I found the writing opaque and a bit convoluted so I never felt that I got to know any of the characters. I wanted to know how the plot ended but I found myself continually checking how far it was to the end and wondering if I could put up with the prose to get there. I assume that the writing is in the style of Dostoevsky whom I haven't read (and if it is won't be any time soon) so it will suit some readers, just not me.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Punishing Crimes 24 Nov 2012
By The Emperor TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This does a very good job in capturing the flavour of Crime and Punishment.

It did seem authentically Russian and of its time.

I thought that it was very well written and there were even some amusing moments.
The crime elements are quite well done and there is a genuine mystery to it. There were plenty of interesting characters and I thought that the dialogue was very impressive.

It is slightly grim and depressing at times but thankfully it isn't over the top.
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Format:Paperback
It is December 1866, and two bodies have been discovered in St Petersburg's Petrovsky Park. It looks as though a dwarf has been killed with an axe and stuffed in a suitcase, and that his murderer, in a fit of remorse, has hanged himself from a nearby tree. At least that's how it seems to the old woman who finds the bodies (along with 6,000 roubles and a pack of pornographic playing cards), and to just about everyone else.

The investigating magistrate, however, is not so sure. He is no ordinary investigator, his most famous case having been that of the double murder committed by Raskolnikov, the student anti-hero of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. His name is Porfiry Petrovich, and R.N. Morris has brilliantly appropriated him to serve as the central character of A Gentle Axe. Eighteen months on from the Raskolnikov case and still haunted by it, he looks just the same - portly and affable, but with a knack of knocking his interviewees off balance by the frequent blinking of his strikingly fair eyelashes, `blond to the point of transparency'.

Morris's recreation of the seamy side of 19th-century St Petersburg is remarkably vivid and convincing - the forbidding tenements, ominous stairwells and dank courtyards so familiar to Dostoyevsky and his readers, which serve as a backdrop to a cast of idiosyncratic characters. Most of them have secrets to hide, ranging from homosexuality (punishable at the time by exile and hard labour), through blackmail to pederasty. Morris's story-telling technique also owes something to another St Petersburg writer, Nikolai Gogol, particularly in his focus on the 19th-century Russian obsession with rank. Should one even bother to investigate a crime whose victims were of such inferior rank?
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