Morris, R N - 'A Razor Wrapped in Silk'
This third outing in R N Morris's fine series starring Porfiry Petrovich is a little gem.
Porfiry Petrovich, investigating magistrate, is asked by a young society lady to look into the disappearance of a string of children from a school she runs for their benefit. These are poor, orphaned children and no-one seems very perturbed by their disappearance. Before Porfiry Petrovich gets a chance to take a good look a woman is killed at the performance of a play. She has connections to the upper echelons of St Petersburg society and even to the Romanovs themselves. This case takes precedence over the missing children, however it soon becomes apparent that the cases may be linked and that they may both have a political aspect. Porfiry finds himself in danger and he needs to solve the murders before someone can get to him.
This is a wonderfully atmospheric novel, beautifully descriptive and portraying a society on the brink of upheaval. You feel drawn into the shadowy world of politics and revolt that is brewing in St Petersburg. It's 1870 and the seeds of industrial unrest are beginning to germinate in St Petersburg where, in just over 30 years, strikes will herald the start of a revolution.
There's no great forensic analysis here although the beginnings are there as Porfiry consults with Dr Pervoyedov. The crimes are solved by deduction and intuition. I really like the eccentric Porfiry Petrovich and his assistant Pavel Pavlovich. Porfiry has a unique way of thinking and a strange method of solving crimes but it's all immensely readable. If I have a small criticism of this book it's just that I didn't feel that it moved the series along very much. I like to feel at the end of a series novel that new possibilities are opening up for the protagonists and that leads me to want to pick up the next one. I'm not sure I got that here, but it's a minor quibble. Overall it's well worth it.
Pat Austin, England