Townhouse Books

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog: Boris Akunin

I picked this up to kill time between meetings, and it is wonderful. Akunin writes mystery novels set in 19th century Russia. I've reviewed his Death of Achilles here; it's one of a series of mysteries featuring a Sherlock Holmsian detective. This is the first book featuring Sister Pelagia, a young Russian nun with a talent for observing small details and character nuances. Her bishop sends her to investigate when his aunt's prize bulldog is murdered, and she ends up tying the crime to political intrigue and multiple murders.

Two things make this a special reading experience: Akunin's nostalgia for the past has a complicated relationship with his feelings about Russia today, and his writing style reminds me of seamless bilingual code-switching, in this case between a dreamy, detailed 19th century style and a witty, tongue-in-cheek modern style. The societal constraints of the time, the place, and the religious order make the plot move forward in a way that is counter-intuitive to the modern reader, but pleasant to follow. Good fun!

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