High-Quality “Whodunnit” That Really Speaks to the Audience
This is the first installment of three reviews planned for the highly addictive and peculiarly charming Pelagia trilogy. If metaphysical detective fiction is your thing and you enjoy historical novels, Boris Akunin is your man.
An Offbeat, But Very Clever Plot
The book begins in a remote part of Russia in the 19th century where a bishop faces a family crisis—his rich Aunt Marya’s bulldog was poisoned and died. To make matters worse, the canine in question is not just an ordinary bulldog, but a rare white bulldog. The bishop knows without a shadow of a doubt that the unorthodox Orthodox nun, Sister Pelagia, is the only person able to successfully investigate the demise of the poor dog and he asks her for help. Soon after Sister Pelagia shows up, the plot thickens when more dogs die. Clearly, something sinister is about to unfold.
Miss Marple Somehow Works as the Clumsy Yet Resourceful Protagonist
From the start of the book, Akunin hits the ground running as he strongly engages with the reader and sends them on a series of wild mental goose chases. He gives highly believable hints of possible solutions to the riddle of the plot and then promptly disrupts them.
The book is also filled with idiosyncratic little mysteries that a thinking reader would be bound to consider. For example, one has to wonder why Akunin would choose a Russian Orthodox nun to be some kind of amateur sleuth like Miss Marple. Not that there is nothing wrong with it, but the freckled, bespectacled, highly energetic nun who is also practically a walking disaster just makes for an interesting choice.
The Super-Smart Nun
As the very persistent Sister Pelagia clumsily wages her way through clues, she comes across a range of suspects, each one with a convincing motive and a colorful personality. There is the intrigue of a rebellious grandson having an illicit romance with the maid, an opportunistic photographer, and a mysterious woman named Miss Wrigley who is set to inherit Aunt Marya’s entire fortune.
Akunin’s characters are well-defined, and the scenery in the town of Zavolzhsk comes alive with his imagery. Readers will be entertained by elaborate descriptions of Russian people and Russian society as they contemplate whether killing the canines may be fueled by greed and just a prelude to something more dreadful. Pelagia tries to find out and takes the readers along with her on her journey.
A Fun Read
Akunin’s distinctive narrative artfully blends humor and horror in this postmodernist novel. It is the kind of writing that makes reading both fun and challenging at the same time. Another good thing about Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog is that there are two books to follow. It’s great when you find a good trilogy!