Pelagia and the Black Monk

Written by Boris Akunin
Review by Edward James

Did you know that Boris Akunin writes detective stories as well as thrillers? Neither did I, but the first two of his Sister Pelagia novels have now been translated into English. If you enjoyed the Fandorin thrillers you will not be disappointed in Sister Pelagia.

Like the thrillers the Sister Pelagia novels are set in late 19th century Russia. Pelagia and the Black Monk is the second in the series and concerns strange goings-on in the monastery of New Ararat, a thin disguise for the Solovetsky monastery in the White Sea (known here as the Blue Lake). But do not expect to learn much about the Orthodox Church under the Tsars. The plot is timeless, totally absurd, wildly complicated, with enough red herrings to sink a fishing fleet and immensely enjoyable. I suspect there is a satire hidden in here about the eagerness of modern Orthodoxy to embrace capitalism, but English readers do not have to understand the private Russian jokes to enjoy the tale.

Sister Pelagia is a gentle creature, but she can handle a Smith and Wesson and does not shrink from violent show-downs with the villains. The body count is high, but the story is told in the measured prose of a 19th century novel. Read on!