A Vengeful Longing

A Vengeful Longing by R.N. Morris. Investigator Porfiry Petrovich, the chain-smoking, somewhat dour character created by Fyodor Dostoevsky in Crime and Punishment, returns in the second book of this series based in St. Petersburg in the late 1860s. It’s a hot, humid summer in the city and the stench from the poorly maintaining sewers and waterways is putting everyone on edge, including our hero. A case involving a doctor suspected of poisoning his wife and son allows Porfiry to introduce his new assistant, Pavel Pavlovich Virginsky, to the world of criminal detection: the stupefying tediousness of searching through countless records for evidence and the use of psychology to gain an understanding of the criminal mind, especially during the interrogation process. However, when two more murders occur, each with an obvious suspect claiming his innocence, Porfiry begins to suspect that a central unknown figure is manipulating events behind the scenes and sets off to discover this nemesis. Morris does an excellent job of portraying the brutal conditions of the city’s poorer inhabitants in the sweltering Russian heat, an interesting contrast to the bitter winter of the prior book, A Gentle Axe. Despite a criminal that throws out numerous red herrings, this title suffers due to a rather unoriginal resolution to the case that sharp readers will figure out well before reaching the end. Still, the interplay between the two central characters will keep readers entertained throughout.

For other historical mysteries set in Imperial Russia, I recommend Boris Akunin’s series of books featuring Erast Fandorin. The Winter Queen, set in 1876, is the first in the series and the latest I’ve enjoyed is Special Assignments, a pair of novellas. Akunin has a second historical mystery series featuring Sister Pelagia, an orthodox nun in the late-19th century who teaches gymnastics and literature and solves mysteries for her bishop. Another worthwhile tale is The White Russian by Tom Bradby, set in the winter months prior to the start of the 1917 Russian Revolution

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