A Review by Gil Smolinski of Boris Akunin’s Pelagia and the Black Monk

Unraveling the Mystery of Pelagia and the Black Monk

Trilogies are hit or miss. Some should have stayed one-hit wonders and others get better with each book. Most of Boris Akunin’s books are enjoyable so it was likely that all the books in this trilogy would make for good reading. So far, so good. After finishing Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog, it was exciting to delve into yet another one adventure with Pelagia and the Black Monk. This time, Sister Pelagia was like an old friend—we’d met before and spent some time unraveling a mystery together. Zavolzhsk was also familiar ground and became rather creepy in this novel as a contemporary ghost story unfolded.

A Horrifying Apparition on the Shores of Blue Lake

Of course, the narrative begins on a dark and gloomy night. A monk arrives at the bishop’s doorstep, scared out of his wits. A terrifying and mysterious spirit known as the Black Monk had been haunting the Hermitage, which is the strange and ancient monastery of New Ararat. Since women are strictly prohibited from being at the monastery, Sister Pelagia is not authorized to use her investigative skills to get to the bottom of the mystery. The good bishop sends emissaries to look into the matter, but not one of them is successful. Instead, each and every one of then becomes a victim of the apparition.

Is It an Evil Spirit?

After Sister Pelagia learns the fate of the bishop’s representatives at the monastery, she decides to defy the rule banning women and to travel undercover to the remote and formerly peaceful community to do what she does best—investigate. Sister Pelagia faces the challenge of figuring out whether something supernatural is indeed at play or whether there is just some mundane and practical explanation for all the events. Another option remains, however—is there a possibility of something more sinister, such as an evil person with an incomprehensible motive perhaps?

It is highly entertaining for readers to try to figure out the mystery as they make their way through the book. As usual, Akunin’s clever writing style makes it all the more interesting. Readers are compelled to focus on the interesting and unusual world of a monastery town. At the same time, they are handed a range of obscure clues and fabricated solutions that crush their hopes time after time by leading to a dead end.

Deep, Dark, and Yet Filled with Fun

This clever and highly enjoyable historical mystery is worth reading, especially when you find out what Sister Pelagia uncovered. Readers will be enchanted by the peculiar nun and all the colorful characters that come about as the story unfolds. If you haven’t already read Pelagia and the White Bulldog though, it is highly recommended to read that first. It’s a great place to start to get to know this quirky protagonist and to get used to Akunin’s style of throwing in plot twists since Pelagia and the Black Monk has even more of them!


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