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Sister Pelagia and the Black Monk
#2 in the Sister Pelagia Series

by Boris Akunin
Andrew Bromfield (Translator)

      When a demon threatens a seaside monastery and surrounding town, the monks beg Bishop Mitrofanii to investigate the mysterious visitation. The first investigator, the Bishop's Nihilist protégé, ends up in the local sanitarium, naked and blathering. The second, the local police captain and devout parishioner, is ruled a suicide. The third, the district attorney and a dear friend is near-catatonic from fright and also at the sanitarium. The Bishop is prostrated by his culpability in the destruction of the minds (and souls!) of three people so close to him. That leaves only Sister Pelagia to go where nuns are not allowed, the Hermitage at the Monastery of New Ararat.

I loved this book and its predecessor, Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog (also reviewed on The text emulates works of the period and reminds me of translations of extant examples: full of fifty-cent words and ten-dollar sentences, wonderful asides about Russian life, debates on political philosophy and shocking revelations. The horror aspects are not the big, jump-out-and-scare-you kind; there are just a few of the ice-cold variety that claw at your instincts and take up residence under your skin. Stylistics may come from translation choices, but the author is a student of Dostoevsky and this shows both thematically and structurally. Sister Pelagia, her intrepid sister Polina Andreevna and introspective brother Pelagius are thoroughly engaging and make any extra effort required to absorb the aura of the text well worth the time.

I love books that make me react; and at least once I sat up and said, "OH!" right out loud! Another time while the Bishop and Pelagia were discussing suicide I looked up and said, "She did NOT say that!"—a fairly amazing experience in this day and age. You'll know the place when you get there.

I am keeping my eyes open for the third in the series, Sister Pelagia and the Red Cockerel.

The Book

Random House Trade Paperbacks
May 13, 2008
0812975146 / 978-0812975147
Historical Mystery (Late 19th C Russia)
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The Reviewer

Beth E. McKenzie
Reviewed 2009
© 2009