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The Gentle Axe [Kindle Edition]

R. N. Morris
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $19.00
Kindle Price: $12.79
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

Fresh off the case of a deranged student who murdered his landlady, noted police investigator Porfiry Petrovich barely takes a breath before a bizarre and very grisly double murder lands him back on the streets of the tsarist St. Petersburg he knows all too well. The sardonic sleuth follows a trail from the drinking dens of the Haymarket district to an altogether more genteel stratum of society-a hunt that leads him to a conclusion even he will find shocking. In the tradition of such first-rate historical novels such as The Alienist and The Dante Club, The Gentle Axe is atmospheric and tense storytelling from its dramatic opening to its stunning climax.

Editorial Reviews Review

Porfiry Petrovich, the police investigator who worked on the case involving the deranged student Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, is given another life in R.N. Morris's The Gentle Axe. It is 1867 in St. Petersburg, Russia, on a cold winter morning. An elderly woman is scouring Petrovsky Park in search of a few sticks of firewood. What she finds instead is horrifying: a big, burly peasant hanging by a rope from a tree, with a blood-covered axe tucked into his belt. Nearby, she finds a suitcase. Packed inside is the body of a dwarf, with a deep head wound caused by an axe. Conventional wisdom says that the peasant killed the dwarf and then, in a paroxysm of guilt and remorse, killed himself. That scenario is good enough for everyone but Porfiry.

In a wonderfully atmospheric novel, Morris has created a world-weary protagonist in Porfiry, a man still exhausted from his last case, joined by a collection of absolutely believable characters to flesh out the novel. Mysteries abound and multiply in layers of characterization and narrative. Porfiry's investigation goes on, despite repeated attempts to take him off the case, and it leads him from the dregs of society to its most genteel heights. He follows clues, hunches, people, and stories to get to the bottom of the mystery--and when he does, it comes as a complete surprise, but one that makes perfect sense. This carefully written and entertaining novel will satisfy lovers of mystery, historical crime, and just plain good novels. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

British author Morris deserves credit for a clever premise—using the deceptively stolid Porfiry Petrovich, the detective in Dostoyevski's Crime and Punishment (who helped inspire TV's Lieutenant Columbo), as the central focus of a period whodunit. A year and a half after the events of Crime and Punishment, two men turn up dead in St. Petersburg's Petrovsky Park. Petrovich, a senior member of the Department of the Investigation of Criminal Causes, quickly suspects that the official version of the tragedy—that one of the men killed the other and then took his own life—is mistaken. In the face of opposition from his superiors, the sleuth doggedly pursues clues that lead him to an underworld of brothels and pornographers. Unfortunately, this Petrovich doesn't have that distinctive a personality and the plot doesn't offer much complexity or psychological depth. Still, the author does a good job of depicting Russian society in the 1860s. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 369 KB
  • Print Length: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 25, 2008)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0014E7IFQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #660,612 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer March 30, 2007
nothing is more difficult than to understand him. Fyodor Dostoevsky.

It takes audacity for an author to choose a great novel or a well-known protagonist from another author's work as the starting off point for his own work. It takes an even greater amount of talent to pull it off. Many have tried and many have failed. There have been some notable successes, however. Jon Clinch's new novel, "Finn", which took a character from Mark Twain's Huck Finn is one. R.N. Morris' novel "The Gentle Axe" is another. He has taken St. Petersburg, Russia's police magistrate Porfiry Petrovich from the pages of Fyodor Dostoevsky's magnificent "Crime and Punishment" and placed him in charge of a new criminal investigation . "The Gentle Axe" manages to be an entertaining novel on its own while doing no disservice to the memory of one of the great novels of all time.

The story starts off with, no surprise here, dead bodies. An aging, former St. Petersburg prostitute finds two bodies in a snow-covered St. Petersburg park; a dwarf who has been hacked to death and stuffed into a suitcase and another man, a peasant, hanging from a nearby tree. Although Magistrate Petrovich suspects that this is a double-homicide his `superiors' are determined to consider this a murder-suicide and close the investigation. But, Petrovich plods on and what seemed at first blush to be a simple plot turns out to be a complicated look into St. Petersburg's `heart of darkness'. Petrovich's investigation takes him to a world of brothels, child pornographers, and poverty-stricken university students who have little food and less clothing but who are rich in nihilism and despair.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Modern Day Masterpiece April 3, 2008
For readers that have been yearning for a book that speaks with an older, wiser voice, written in a long forgotten style, with a classic fluidity that can only be penned by a select few...Here ya' go! R. N. Morris has delivered a novel that embraces the historic elements of a true masterpiece, indulges the nostalgic desires of the quintessential reader and satisfies even the most discerning contemporary suspense-thriller lover!

Fyodor Dostoevsky first introduced readers to criminal investigator Porfiry Petrovich, in the 1866 novel Crime & Punishment. The book is centered around the murder of a pawnbroker and her half-sister by a deranged, impoverished student, named Raskolnikov. It is a year after this mind-numbing case that Morris picks up the story and takes the reader deep into the investigator's life and of course, a brand new murder mystery.

Searching for firewood in St. Petersburg's Petrovsky Park, a woman stumbles upon a dead body hanging from a tree. Nearby, a second body, that of a dwarf, is found in a suitcase. A laundry list of items were initially left at the scene, however, by the time investigator Petrovich is alerted, via an anonymous tip, anything of value is missing, thus complicating an already difficult case.

The search for answers will take the rotund detective through many facets of Russian society, from the dark, dank squalid apartments of the slums to the elegant, sprawling homes of the sophisticated elite. As the Park investigation continues, other, seemingly unrelated murders occur, forcing the investigation in a surprisingly new direction. To solve the Park case, Petrovich will have to think outside the box...connecting the dots of this disturbing case will prove to be even more difficult than the case that had defined him.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jovial, page-turning Russian moroseness April 3, 2008
By 24mark
I adored this novel, and I'm so pleased that there will be a sequel with the same protagonist. Morris provides good plot, great atmosphere, and characters that are several levels above those found in most novels labeled as mysteries. Rather than skim over paragraphs about walking through the streets or climbing staircases, I found myself rapt in the small bits of characterization and setting that Morris includes in such passages. This is a great find for lovers of historical crime.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "It is a kind of Siberia of the soul." June 11, 2008
R. N. Morris's "The Gentle Axe" is set in St. Petersburg, Russia, in December 1866. Approximately a year and a half earlier, Porfiry Petrovich relentlessly interrogated a student named Raskolnikov until the suspect broke down and confessed. "The Gentle Axe" opens in Petrovsky Park, where an aging former prostitute named Zoya Nikolaevna Petrova braves the biting cold in order to collect a basket of firewood. She keeps trudging along in spite of her aches and pains because of her fierce devotion to a young prostitute named Lilya and Lilya's adorable daughter, Vera, who live with her. Suddenly, Zoya stumbles upon a horrific scene--the body of a "big brute" hangs from a birch trunk and the corpse of a dwarf lies folded in a suitcase. She searches the two victims for money and anything that she can sell, and then quickly darts away without alerting the police.

Next, we meet the chain-smoking and cerebral Porfiry Petrovich, a magistrate in the Department of the Investigation of Criminal Causes. After he receives an anonymous tip stating that there has been a murder in Petrovsky Park, he convinces the police to conduct a search. They soon discover the bodies that Zoya had encountered earlier. Porfiry's shortsighted and inept colleagues want to declare this an open and shut case of murder/suicide, but Porfiry's keen eye, sharp senses, and well-honed instincts tell him that there is nothing straightforward or obvious about the deaths of a dwarf named Stepan Sergeyevich Goryanchikov and a yardkeeper named Borya.

Morris ably describes the social and economic conditions in St. Petersburg during the late nineteenth century. A strict caste system buffered the upper classes from the indigent wretches who barely had enough food to sustain life or enough fuel to ward off the frigid winds. R.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow Read
I liked the historical component, but I found it to be a very slow read. Not a real page turner.
Published 19 months ago by Tennis Diva
5.0 out of 5 stars {The Gentle Axe}
I read this book a while back and really loved it, one of the best Russian books I've read in a good while. Wonderful! Read more
Published 21 months ago by Cervantes
4.0 out of 5 stars Punishing Crimes
This does a very good job in capturing the flavour of Crime and Punishment.

It did seem authentically Russian and of its time. Read more
Published on December 15, 2012 by The Emperor
5.0 out of 5 stars surprisingly good
I picked this book up off the bargain table, it seemed an interesting premise and the first few pages were very engaging. I have been so pleasantly surprised by the book! Read more
Published on April 1, 2010 by V. T. Franks
5.0 out of 5 stars An Oustanding Period Novel
If you have read Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" you will recognize the protagonist of this novel written a couple of years ago by R. N. Read more
Published on February 20, 2010 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional
I can't remember the last time I enjoyed reading a novel as much as I enjoyed reading this one!

There is a richness to the writing style that I have yet to find in... Read more
Published on September 1, 2009 by Queen's Jester
3.0 out of 5 stars Crime after Crime & Punishment
I have a prejudice against authors who steal characters from great writers of the past. Many readers don't mind this: witness the success of the proliferating thieves of Jane... Read more
Published on July 19, 2009 by Patto
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice Mystery Story
I purchased this book without knowing its main character was Porfiry Petrovich. Crime and Punishment was a favorite of mine during my college years, as were other Dostoevsky's... Read more
Published on February 8, 2009 by CFT
5.0 out of 5 stars Crime & Punishment: SVU
After a century and a half wait, we finally get the pulse-pounding sequel to Crime & Punishment -- or at least, this cunning little literary conceit disguised as a compelling... Read more
Published on January 19, 2009 by EddieLove
4.0 out of 5 stars Pleasantly surprised
I have to say, I liked this book. I picked it up at a Costco knowing nothing about it or the author and I was surprised. Unlike others, I personally thought it was an easy read. Read more
Published on August 5, 2008 by lbogia
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More About the Author

London-based novelist Roger Morris is the author of three novels: Taking Comfort (Macmillan), and, writing as R.N. Morris, A Gentle Axe and A Vengeful Longing (both published by Faber and Faber in the UK and Penguin Press in America). A Vengeful Longing was shortlisted for the CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award in 2008 and was runner-up in New York Magazine's Culture Awards 2008 for best thriller. His books have been translated into many languages and published around the world.

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