Morris, R N - 'The Cleansing Flames'
St Petersburg, Russia in 1872 - a male body surfaces in a lake and it has obviously been submerged since the preceding winter. Because of its condition it is hard to get him identified. There is political unrest as anti-government terrorists are burning down buildings in protest against the Tsar. Junior Investigating Magistrate Pavel Pavlovich Virginsky has a dilemma, he secretly agrees with the protesters but cannot let his superiors know; he is approached by a man who recognises a kindred spirit for the revolution. Virginsky's superior Porfiry Petrovich is keen to identify the body in the lake, and he is intrigued to receive a letter from an unknown person telling him he has information for Petrovich. However the informant fails to turn up for their meeting. Petrovich and a reluctant Virginsky must try and identify both the murdered man and the potential informer. They are assisted by the police department but have to tread a fine line because the Third Force, the Tsar's secret police, are very keen to know what the magistrates are up to. Virginsky suggests that he try and infiltrate the terrorists to see if he can learn anything, but Petrovich believes this would be fraught with danger. Virginsky will also meet his ideal woman - beautiful but dangerous.
THE CLEANSING FLAMES is the author's fourth book in his Porfiry Petrovich series, which uses the detective from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment; short-listed for the 2011 Ellis Peters Historical Award, it is well written and researched. This was an interesting book, but I found it slow going, not helped by the tongue twisting names. Virginsky is an annoying character, but Petrovich more than makes up for his colleague's dithering and naivete.
Geoff Jones, England