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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)
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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 + The Cleansing Flames (St Petersburg Mystery) + A Vengeful Longing
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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: 572,009 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


"'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 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Hard Act to follow? 13 Mar 2007
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 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More "Crime and Punishmant" ! 1 April 2009
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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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Putdownable 22 May 2010
I wasn't at all gripped by this story. While the author did a fine job in transporting the reader to 19th century St Petersburg, a great setting wonderfully described can only go so far. I wanted to be involved in the characters' lives, and I wanted to be turning the pages, eager to know what happened next.

There were just too many characters in the murder case, each on stage for too little time (or not at all), to allow the reader to get to know them. I didn't care whodunnit. Even the main character of Porfidy was rather flat - I didn't care about him either.

As for the plot, it plodded on, with clues appearing occasionally, some other anonymous person (yawn) being murdered... And the scene at the end where everything was explained was unintentionally funny, as if it was a comedy sketch - how many ridiculous motives for (and methods of) murder can you think of?

On the plus side, the writing was good, I thought, although in a few places words were used incorrectly, as if the author had misunderstood their meaning - but maybe this was done deliberately, to give an 'in translation' feel.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant 4 Feb 2008
By T. Wood
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book will grab your attention on the first page and not let you go, even after you are done.
This is first class storytelling from a man who deserves to take his place as one of the best. The characters are well drawn, sympathetic, annoying, pitiable, but realistic. The location is as cold as some of the happenings and you are drawn into an atmospheric past that both invades the present and astonishes you with its authenticity.
Porfiry has been brought back to life so successfully by his new author that it makes you not only forgive Morris for stealing from the best but also applaud him for doing so. Dostoevsky would be proud. A great detective deserves more than one outing and now, through the mastery of R.N. Morris, Porfiry gets that chance.
An experience not to be missed.
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