Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Razor Wrapped in Silk

R.N. Morris
A Razor Wrapped in Silk

Faber and Faber, 2010

1870. From school for poor children, working by day at the plant, several teenagers go missing, among them Mitka Krasotkin, favourite pupil of school founder Maria Petrovna. Maria Petrovna, the society lady and daughter of a wealthy father, concernes that the worst thing could happen to children, and appeales for help to Porfiry Petrovich (the same one investigator from Dostoevsky's novel). While Porfiry Petrovitch and his assistant, Pavel Pavlovich Virginsky are just beginning to look for missing children, when in Naryskin Palace during the theatre performance in the dressing room a society lady Elena Filippovna Polenova, recently engaged to Naryshkin Jr., has been murdered. The servants have seen former lover of the deseased Captain Mizinchikov running from the dressing room, smeared in blood, and the sister of Elena, Aglaia Filippovna, first sees a dead sister, and from what she’d seen she becomes ill, falling into unconsciousness. Police search for Mizinchikov and find in his apartment love letters between him and the deseased. Elena Filippovna asked Mizinchikov and then Naryshkin to kill her, but both denied it. Porfiry Petrovitch begins to doubt that the killer is Mizinchikov, but finds that the missing children and murder of a society lady somehow link.

Porfiry Petrovitch, moved from "Crime and Punishment" on pages of novels by Morris becomes a hero in already the third book of the British writer, and this is the final case for the investigator. Porfiry Petrovich is no longer master of interrogation one by one, but the master of the "field" work - he examines the headless bodies, pressed the dirty police to nail, almost dares the Emperor himself. A look at this novel from Russia, of course, will differ from the view from the UK, but we have to admit, despite some factual errors (such as the introduction on the novel the tsar, when the Tsars have been "renamed" to the Emperors), Morris caught the atmosphere of St. Petersburg of the second half of the XIX century. There are also a carriage, and fog, and the western industrialists, and secret police - and the level of authenticity is pretty high. Even the Socialists, and they have played their part in «A Razor Wrapped in Silk».

What did not work in Morris’s novel, it is to move the style of Dostoevsky to Morris' novel. Where Dostoevsky has verbosity, but such one that you cannot throw a word from a sentence, Morris has redundancy:

«The painting before him showed the skeletal structure of a dilapidated amphitheatre, golden in the light of a dying sun. The few isolated human figures were dwarfed by the great stone remains, which stood to remind them of the vanity of human ambition. It answered his souls's craving for an irrevocable solitude. Sometimes he believed that it was only the presence of other people, with their inconvenient desires and clamorous demands, that prevented him from being happy».

This style slows down the action, though Morris is very good at plot. The author hides a few aces up his sleeve, balancing between the historic police detective and the so-called «locked room mystery». The secret police wedged in the investigation, and one of the suspects became the son of the emperor, even, these surprises, perhaps, brighten a bad combination of style and plot.

The book will especially please those who have never read Dostoevsky.

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