A Gentle Axe: St Petersburg Mystery Paperback – 7 Feb 2008
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"'Vivid and convincing... keeps the reader guessing until the end.' Independent"
A Gentle Axe: St Petersburg Mystery, by R. N. Morris, is a riveting, richly-textured historical crime novel inspired by Dostoievsky's classic Crime and Punishment.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This does a very good job in capturing the flavour of Crime and Punishment.
It did seem authentically Russian and of its time. Read more
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... Read morePublished on 1 Oct. 2011 by Virginia Rounding
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel...both the setting and a story well told. I'm looking for further work by this author.Published on 29 Oct. 2010 by Ruth Wynne
I met Roger Morris only because of the Russo-British current crisis. It is this tension between UK and Russia that prevented my Chekhov project from going ahead due to directors... Read morePublished on 4 Feb. 2008 by Victoria
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... Read more