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!