From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Akunin, best known for his Erast Fandorin series (Special Assignments
, etc.), has created another memorable sleuth in Sister Pelagia,Â a 19th-century Russian nun whose insights into human nature and curiosity will remind many of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown.Â In this excellent second installment (after 2007's Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog
), Pelagia's superior, Bishop Mitrofanii of Zavolzshsk, dispatches a series of emissaries to investigate the horrifying apparition of a black monk that's haunting the monastery of New Ararat on the shores of the Blue Lake, a locale as creepy as the moors of The Hound of the Baskervilles
. When all end up victims of the ghostly figure, Pelagia defies the bishop and travels to the remote community to pursue the case.Â Readers will savor Akunin's distinctive narrative voice as well as the artful blend of humor and horror with such elements of traditional detective fiction as cleverly concealed clues and numerous false solutions.Â (May)
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In the sequel to Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog (2007), the ghost of a centuries-old “black monk,” Saint Basilisk, is apparently terrorizing the island monastery of New Ararat. After a series of investigators all meet with unusual ends, Bishop Mitrofanii allows Sister Pelagia to go undercover to see if she can unearth the truth: Is the ghost behind the eerie goings-on, or is there a more prosaic explanation? Akunin, a Russian essayist and novelist (his Erast Fandorin mysteries are increasingly popular), is heavily influenced by Chekhov and Dostoyevsky, both of whom are reflected in the novel’s atmospheric prose, its nineteenth-century-Russia setting, its social commentary, and its exploration of ethics and the nature of evil. The book reflects a marked shift in tone, if not in subject matter, from the Fandorin novels, which feel like light, almost campy comedies compared to the Pelagia series. But that is not criticism: this is a very good novel, deep and dark and rich in flavor, and though it may not please Fandorin fans, it should find its own audience. --David Pitt