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“Pelagia’s family likeness to Father Brown and Miss Marple is marked, and reading about her supplies a similarly decorous pleasure.”
–The Literary Review
In a remote Russian province in the late nineteenth century, Bishop Mitrofanii must deal with a family crisis. After learning that one of his great aunt’s beloved and rare white bulldogs has been poisoned, the Orthodox bishop knows there is only one detective clever enough to investigate the murder: Sister Pelagia.
The bespectacled, freckled Pelagia is lively, curious, extraordinarily clumsy, and persistent. At the estate in question, she finds a whole host of suspects, any one of whom might have benefited if the old lady (who changes her will at whim) had expired of grief at the pooch’s demise. There’s Pyotr, the matron’s grandson, a nihilist with a grudge who has fallen for the maid; Stepan, the penniless caretaker, who has sacrificed his youth to the care of the estate; Miss Wrigley, a mysterious Englishwoman who has recently been named sole heiress to the fortune; Poggio, an opportunistic and freeloading “artistic” photographer; and, most intriguingly, Naina, the old lady’s granddaughter, a girl so beautiful she could drive any man to do almost anything.
As Pelagia bumbles and intuits her way to the heart of a mystery among people with faith only in greed and desire, she must bear in mind the words of Saint Paul: “Beware of dogs–and beware of evil-doers.”
“Critics on both sides of the Atlantic have praised [Akunin’s] clever plots, vivid characters and wit.”
“Akunin’s wonderful novels are always intricately webbed and plotted.”
–The Providence Journal
Set in the late 19th century, this charming, highly unusual whodunit from Russian author Akunin (the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili) introduces Sister Pelagia, a young nun in a remote Russian province far removed from the intrigue of the czarist government. Pelagia's bishop, who has discreetly and successfully employed her deductive skills before, calls on her when an uncommon white bulldog belonging to his aunt is poisoned. After the nun's arrival on the scene, the two remaining dogs in the breeding line turn up dead, leading Pelagia to suspect the killings are actually an indirect attempt to murder their wealthy mistress, whose devotion to the animals is legendary. Akunin's gently humorous omniscient narrative voice distinguishes this novel from other historical mysteries. Even admirers of Akunin's Erast Petrovich Fandorin series (The Death of Achilles, etc.) will appreciate the author's switch to another, even more memorable sleuth.