Murder and Mysticism in Pelagia and the Red Rooster by Boris Akunin

The Final Book in the Pelagia Trilogy—Pelagia and the Red Rooster

Readers who are fans of a particular author often find it a bit glum to start reading the final book in a series. They know that this is it – the story ends forever as soon as they get to the final pages of the book. But, in this charming trilogy, Boris Akunin cleverly starts the book with an ending—the end to Sister Pelagia’s stint as an amateur detective. Pelagia gets into trouble for her crime-busting adventures and is sternly reprimanded by the Chief Procurator. The big boss of the church is intent on putting an end to her career as an amateur detective. Of course, though, the story can’t end there, and as Pelagia returns from the Synod on a steamship, she yet again runs into an adventure.

A Short-Lived Retirement

On the ship, the endearing nun finds herself surrounded by obscure and unsavory characters. There is a controversial Jewish sect, a man with a removable eye, and some petty thieves. And then, disaster strikes. A so-called “messiah” is gruesomely murdered in the cabin right next to Sister Pelagia. How can she not be drawn into the investigation?
As the mystery evolves, it becomes unclear whether the murdered man was truly working the wonders of God, or if he was a con artist out to gain power and money. Pelagia decides to go on a fact-finding mission to the Holy Land, and she is pursued by yet more unsavory characters, which takes her across a range of countries.

Filled with Violent Twist and Turns

Akunin keeps readers on their toes with this book. Just as you begin to enjoy a character and they become a bit more predictable, he kills them off. The story is packed with religious tensions, obsessions, and differences. The plot is intricate yet totally gruesome at the same time. It is complete with anti-Semitic hostility, political and religious machinations, and graphic violence. And all that goes without even mentioning the creepy scene in a medieval Russian castle where bizarre objects like a smoked human head are kept. This is without a doubt one of Akunin’s most grisly tales.

Miracles and roosters abound throughout the book. And that’s not all—there’s also time-travel through portals in caves, crazy religious converts, and the looming threat of Armageddon. But as always, Akunin brings Russian historical sensibility into the mix to even it out. In this novel, the intrigue builds up and is accompanied by a good dose of the mystical and theological. It seems to go at an even faster pace than the first two books and packs in even more surprises. Pelagia’s faith is threatened by an ongoing line of metaphysical questioning. At some point, her criminal quest turns into a spiritual one. Will Pelagia abandon her faith? Will she unravel the mystery? It’s well worth reading this book to find out.

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