Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog

Written by Boris Akunin
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Philologist, critic, essayist and translator from the Japanese Grigory Chkhartishvili adopts the pen name of Boris Akunin for this anticipated mystery trilogy, the Mortalis series, set in a remote province of Russia in the late 19th century. This is the first installment.

The quirky star of the series is the clumsy, irreverent, bespectacled Sister Pelagia. Let us just say that Pelagia is much more complex than she initially appears. Sent off by her bishop, Mitrofanii, to solve the murders of the white bulldogs raised by his great aunt, Pelagia uses her considerable powers of observation to see through to the true natures and motives of the great aunt’s guests, relatives and hangers-on.

Akunin has an interesting, albeit difficult, style. There are so many characters that it is difficult to separate many of them out until late in the story. There are chapters of digressions about the politics, religious beliefs and social lives of the people of the Zavolzhie region. Frankly, with the amount of detail and meanderings, it became difficult to pay attention to the plot at certain points. Once the story got going though, and I could figure out who was who, I discovered that Akunin has a very dry, tongue-in-cheek style that was worth initially struggling through. And Pelagia is quite a woman and a tip-top detective!