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Pelagia and the White Bulldog

by Boris Akunin

If you have enjoyed Boris Akunin’s popular series about Fandorin, here he is again with a new series and a new protagonist. This time she is a nun, name of Sister Pelagia with ginger hair, freckles and a keen talent for solving crimes. Zavolzhsk is a rural town a cut above the average thanks to its canny bishop, but into this idyll comes the unwelcome presence of Vladimir Lvovich Bubentsov, the Synodical Inspector from St Petersburg come to root out any religious dissenters. Meanwhile, Bishop Mitrofanii has sent Pelagia to the estate of his elderly aunt. She is a fanatical breeder of white bulldogs and one of them has been poisoned. So Pelagia has to find out whodunit, but who is responsible for the two headless human bodies and why?

In common with the chronicles of Fandorin here is another wonderfully inventive book which adds a new dimension to crime fiction. Pelagia is a more accessible character than Fandorin, although the person who most comes to life (apart from the villainous Bubentsov) is the bishop. It is a teasing plot with quite a few bodies and a variation on the old classic country house murder, with the addition of a wild Circassian, head hunting natives and plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor. There is more in here than just a story; Akunin writes about Zavolzhsk as if he lives there, describing the people and their way of life together with the bishop’s recipe for running such a place. It all adds up to a satisfying, rich feast of a novel and best of all, like his other novels, this gives a convincing picture of rural Russia in the late 19th century from a Russian’s point of view. This is mercifully free of the clichés anybody else would pepper it with, which is very possibly its very best feature.

The Book

Phoenix (Orion)
April 2007
Historical Crime - Late 19th century, Russia
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NOTE: US edition is different

The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2007
© 2006