Morris (The Gentle Axe, 2007) again resurrects police inspector Porfiry Petrovich from Crime and Punishment for a second rousing crime mystery.
The story bursts open with a poisoned box of chocolates and the violent deaths of Raisa and Grisha Meyer, wife and son of Dr. Martin Meyer, a reclusive opium-eater. On his strained first day at the job, opinionated, idealistic Pavel Pavlovich Virginsky begins an apprenticeship under the older, wiser Porfiry Petrovich, and together they dispatch to the crime scene. The case appears to be open-and-shut, but in the following days, amidst the stifling heat and stench of drab, gray 19th-century St. Petersburg, a series of curious, seemingly unrelated murders occur. With mounting evidence tying the crimes to an insurrectionist cell plotting against the Tsar, a labyrinthine web of evidence begins to unravel. Each new lead becomes a dead-end, but the coincidences—so various, yet so exact—eventually lead the policemen toward the culprit. Richly colorful and alive, Morris's characters brim with texture, whether they are hard-nosed cops or seasoned prostitutes, cantankerous slumlords or bespectacled bureaucrats. None escape the piercing intellect of Petrovich, who opens every individual’s closet of vice and hypocrisy. Forcing all to admit their deepest shames, he provides them a psychological conduit for personal revelation and redemption. Equally powerful (and parallel) to this Virgil-like probe of the human psyche are Petrovich and Virginsky's forays into the city’s deepest shames: a hospital for the mentally insane and a tenement infected with cholera, where the only sounds are that of wailing for the dead. Musing on questions of love, regret, misery, injustice, disillusionment, etc., Morris seamlessly and brilliantly segues from intensely grave to laugh-out-loud funny.
Provocative, satirical insights into humanity’s darker corners.