Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Gentle Axe by R. N. Morris (Penguin, 2008)

The action in R. N. Morris's fascinating novel -- The Gentle Axe -- begins at the end of 1886, one and a half years after Porfiry Petrovich (of Crime and Punishment fame) had solved the famous case of the student Raskolnikov.

Now, in something of a long-delayed but remarkably well-done sequel to Dostoevsky's canonical novel, Morris brilliantly deploys the cynical Russian police investigator in a grisly new case involving crime, detection, and punishment.

The top-notch mystery begins in St. Petersburg's Petrovsky Park where someone has found two bodies (each body is singular in its appearance and condition) and a few important physical clues: an axe, a length of rope, a large suitcase, a pack of playing cards (decorated with provocative illustrations), a small key, an envelope containing 6,000 rubles, a flask of vodka, and a pawnbroker's ticket.

However, when Porfiry and the police finally arrive on the scene, a number of the more valuable (and important) clues have already disappeared, and Porfiry has a difficult challenge ahead of him.

Nevertheless, even as Porfiry follows the few leads left for him among the remaining physical clues, he soon finds himself looking into the dark, sordid worlds of prostitution and pornography, and - at the same time - Porfiry knows, if he hopes to solve the case, he must also look more closely at more sophisticated and elegant (and perhaps even more secretive) levels of society.

Other murders soon complicate the Petrovsky Park murder case, and only when Porfiry finds the surprising connections between the disparate strata of society (and some shocking relationships between seemingly unrelated personalities) will he be able to unlock the mystery and solve his most difficult and disturbing case.

Cleverly plotted and adroitly written with a fine narrative flair, The Gentle Axe is a rock-solid success (and, in its own way, a commendatory stylistic homage to Dostoevsky's great novel). Full of atmospheric settings, intriguing characters, and spell-binding suspense (just like Crime and Punishment), R. N. Morris's exciting mystery is an absolute winner. Enjoy!


  1. It's always interesting to see another author's take on a famous character. I'm glad you enjoyed this, Tim.

  2. It's hard to believe sequel could written to C&P! But it sounds like an I terestingtake off... I enjoyed the mysteries by that other Russian mystery writer, (I drew a blank on his name, but detective was Arkady something) and I'd probably like this also..tx for. The recommend...

  3. I read this back in 2011 and was very impressed. Even more so that it was the first book in a series! I can recommend The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin which is broadly similar (and also the first in a series!)

  4. Arkady? I'll do some sleuthing here, Mudpuddle. Akunin? I've added him to my library shopping list, CK.. Thanks, everyone!

  5. Found it, Mudpuddle.

  6. Arkady Renko
    1. Gorky Park (1981)
    2. Polar Star (1989)
    3. Red Square (1992)
    4. Havana Bay (1999)
    5. Wolves Eat Dogs (2004)
    6. Stalin's Ghost (2007)
    7. Three Stations (2010)
    8. Tatiana (2013)

  7. Tim,

    Looks interesting. Thanks for the review.

    1. You're welcome, Fred. I hope with future postings to include more reviews, avoid provocative digressions into controversial topics, dabble every now and then in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, and perhaps spend some time again with Shakespeare. Alas, too many goals and too many potential detours.

    2. complexity is the spice of life... or it's armageddon, i don't know which...