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A Gentle Axe: St Petersburg Mystery Paperback – 7 Feb 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (7 Feb. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571238572
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571238576
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 70,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

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

Book Description

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.

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Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is the first in a series of detective novels set in 19th century St Petersburg featuring investigative magistrate Porfiry Petrovich, who is the detective in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment who investigates the murders committed by the student Raskolnikov. This novel also features some of the minor characters from the classic novel, some different but very similar ones such as the student Virginsky, and some of the same features (e.g. axes, pawnbrokers), though I had to check to confirm the names as it is many years since I read it at university. The plot of this spin off is okay, a little convoluted and unclear until all is revealed in the final chapter. The descriptions of the city and its inhabitants are good and evocative, though I can't say I like any of the characters really. Not sure if I will bother with any of the sequels.
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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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By Elaine Tomasso TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 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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Format: Paperback
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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