Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Review: A Vengeful Longing, R. N. Morris

Farber and Farber, 2009. ISBN 978-0-571-23955-9. 316 pages.

This is the second of the Porfiry Petrovich series which features characters drawn from Dosteovsky's Crime and Punishment. The first is A Gentle Axe reviewed by me here.

A Vengeful Longing opens with the painful poisoning death of a doctor's wife and son. The poison was in chocolates brought home by the doctor who gave them to his family. The doctor is the obvious suspect. In a loveless marriage with a disabled son, the doctor had motive, means, and opportunity. However, investigating magistrate Porfiry Petrovich isn't satisfied with the obvious. With more bodies appearing, Petrovich begins to see a pattern though the cause of death is different in each case.

Like A Gentle Axe, A Vengeful Longing is a very satisfying mystery and the series has become a "can barely wait for the next one to be published" favorite of mine. The third book is called A Razor Wrapped in Silk, by the way, and is somewhere in the editing process.

The character Petrovich becomes more interesting with each book. Here he has a acquired a trainee investigating magistrate Pavel Pavlovich Virginisky who we met in the first book when he was an impoverished student and potential murder suspect. In training Virginisky how to construct a watertight case we begin to see better how Petrovich views evidence and how he uses his psychology to test suspects. There is also humor as Petrovich seems to take a untenable position in order to get his apprentice to see all aspects of a case.

The city of St. Petersburg continues to be a character in the story and Petrovich loves his city is spite of its faults. It was winter inA Gentle Axe Now it is summer and we get a different aspect of of the city. The lack of sanitation and the effects on the lower classes are vividly described. We should be thankful that Morris can't incorporate smell into his text. This level of historical detail is one of the features that makes this series interesting. The issue of sanitation is also used to give us a look at the complexities of Tsarist bureaucracy.

A Vengeful Longing is an excellent historical mystery with interesting characters on both sides of the law, a complex mystery, and a fascinating setting. I recommend it highly.