Its the middle of a hot, dusty St. Petersburg summer in the late 1860s. A doctor brings home a fancy box of chocolates for his wife and son - a strange gift on a scorching Saturday afternoon. Within an hour, both mother and child die an excruciating death, and the doctor is immediately arrested, suspected of poisoning. As investigator Porfiry Petrovich concedes, in such cases the obvious solution often turns out to be the correct solution. And in the citys sweltering, oppressive atmosphere, even he lacks the energy to delve any deeper.
But when additional, apparently unconnected, murders occur on the other side of town, a subtle and surprising pattern starts to emerge. Porfiry is forced to reassess his assumptions and follow a tenuous, uncertain trail that takes him into the hidden, squalid heart of the city and brings him face to face with incomprehensible horror and cruelty.
Part One: Poison
Chapter I: In an island dacha
Raisa Ivanovna Meyer was sitting on the veranda of a rented dacha, listening to distant music from a pleasure boat as it filtered through successive screens of foliage. The notes that came to her were fragmented, barely music, but they compelled her attention more than the novel she had been drowsing over. She placed the book down on the marble table and looked up.
She was irritated, rather than soothed, by the broken strains. If only she could place the tune, then she could relax, and the music would have fulfilled its promise. But it set her nerves on edge, and the wafts of nostalgia that it carried with it only depressed her. Sometimes it seemed to be getting closer, clarifying into something almost recognisable, but immediately it would again recede and disintegrate. Raisa looked at her son, Grisha, as he leant over the circular table, utterly absorbed in the activity of copying the Daily Events section of The Voice. The ...
While characterization is a commanding aspect of Morris's book the author is equally adept at grounding the story with a powerful sense of place and time. He depicts the political atmosphere of mid 19th century Imperial Russia using a light, almost painterly, hand. Subtle hints to the era's diverse attitudes toward the Tsar and government in general lie buried within the dialog. More explicit descriptions of the sweltering summer heat plus lengthier passages portraying the unspeakably bleak living conditions of the very poor who suffered the brunt of a seasonal cholera outbreak are blended seamlessly into the narrative, providing a fullness that animates the story.
(Reviewed by Donna Chavez).
Full Review (1005 words).
Just as "Joanie Loves Chachi" and "Laverne & Shirley" spun off with a focus on minor characters originally seen in the original television series "Happy Days," so too are there literary spinoffs. A spinoff is different from a sequel in that it does not continue the protagonist's story, instead it is drawn either from the backstory or from the viewpoint of a secondary character who appears in the original tale. In literature, as in life, every well-drawn individual can be the star of their own show. In A Vengeful Longing Morris takes the relatively minor-yet-key character of the police magistrate and makes him the center of his own set of novels (consisting so far of The Gentle Axe and A Vengeful Longing). It is, to my ...
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