Set in St. Petersburg in 1868, Morris's superb second novel to feature Porfiry Petrovich (after The Gentle Axe) puts the detective borrowed from Dostoyevski's Crime and Punishment on the trail of a series of vile murders. When the wife and son of a doctor die after consuming a box of chocolates at their dacha, the obvious suspect is the morphine-addicted doctor. Then a shooting and a stabbing lead Petrovich elsewhere—to an elegant confectioner's full of pastries and possible revolutionaries as well as to the city's underworld. As Petrovich breaks in a new detective, the aptly named Pavel Virginsky, he introduces colleague and reader alike to the Russian capital and to the ills of the entire society. Morris captures this world with expert strokes, never content to merely peddle exotica, but making sure that his characters spring convincingly from their setting. While the person behind the crimes is a little unlikely, this novel stands out from a number of fine czarist-era mysteries—by Russians and foreigners alike—like a Fabergé egg at a yard sale. (June)
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