A Gentle Axe
A man hangs from a tree in Petrovsky Park, St. Petersburg, an axe tucked in his belt. Beside him on the ground is a leather suitcase containing the body of a dwarf (or should that read ‘a height-challenged person’ in these days?). Zoya Nicolaevna, walking home through the park, discovers the bodies, finds six thousand roubles in the hanging man’s pockets and goes on her way, laughing. As for the bodies, this is clearly another case for Detective Porfiry Petrovich.
The story is set in the winter of 1867 in St. Petersburg. It is an intriguing tale with many avenues to explore before the murderer is exposed in the last few pages, but I found that the constant use of the full Russian names, usually three of them, irritating. It may well be that this was the norm, the author seems to have researched the period well, but I found it off-putting. The characters in the story, apart from the police, are largely poverty-stricken for one reason or another, and as human nature doesn’t change much it could have been set in any place, in any age.
Crime fiction, it certainly is, but there are no historical events or persons involved and to me, therefore, simply dating it to a year in the mid-19th century does not merit the genre of an historical novel.