Morris, R N - 'A Vengeful Longing'
It's becoming a well-used construct these days to take a character from an earlier, usually much-loved, book and reinvent them for your own novel. Sometimes it works and other times it does not. In this case, due mainly to the fine writing of R N Morris, it definitely works.
Morris has taken that old favourite Porfiry Petrovich, investigating magistrate from Dostoyevsky's great CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and used him to great effect in this series, of which this is the second book.
The foetid and corrupt air of St Petersburg in a summer of the late 1860s is the setting for a mystery involving a series of strange, seemingly unconnected murders. Each murder would appear to have an obvious suspect but Porfiry Petrovich does not always believe in the obvious answer being the correct one. In the days before forensics and scientific analysis it is left to old-fashioned detection and deduction to solve cases, and a good knowledge of human behaviour is required.
Working alongside Porfiry Petrovich is a new assistant, Virginski, who first met Porfiry Petrovich when he was a suspect in an earlier case, the subject of the previous book in the series. The addition of this assistant allows Porfiry Petrovich to expound on his views of policing, detection and human nature.
The book is well written, the atmosphere of pre-revolution St Petersburg is wonderfully evoked and the characters well drawn. This has the feel of a genuine 19th Century novel.
I'd have to confess that I struggled a little with the Russian naming conventions. The narrator refers to characters always by the surname, but in conversation the two forenames are used. Some of the names are very similar and sometimes even the same, so I did have to pause occasionally to work out who was being spoken about. I think this may be a failing of mine rather than of the book though, which is after all using the language as it would have been used at the time. I guess I don't read that much 19th century Russian literature these days, and this certainly gave you the feeling of being right there in the period.
All in all this was a most enjoyable read and I shall look forward to meeting Porfiry Petrovich again.
Pat Austin, England