I like crime fiction.  I like historical fiction.  I adore historical crime fiction.  It transports me – in this case back to tsarist Russia and the world of Dostoevsky’s supersleuth Porfiry Petrovich.

A Razor Wrapped in Silk, published today,  is the third of a planned quartet by R N Morris.  I devoured the first two last year and have been following the writing of the third (and the fourth, for it is finished!)  via the author’s facebook updates.  So when an advanced copy arrived, I controlled myself … and read it at just below the speed of light. It did not disappoint.

In previous novels Morris has explored the social divide in tsarist Russia but never has it been so extreme as here. The working classes are represented by children, shuffling for their living beneath factory looms.  The higher echelons appear as nobles, bankers and the Romanov Tsar himself –  Tsar Alexander II whose agenda for reform ironically fuelled rebellion and revolutionary zeal.

In the meantime  factory orphans wishing to escape their fate are attending the classes of a warm-hearted teacher seeking to improve their lot though education.  Yet they begin to disappear one by one ….

as a high-society actress, the Tsarevich’s ex-lover, a woman with a cold heart and a death wish, meets her maker in suspicious circumstances.  Was it murder? Is her death connected to the disappearance of the children?

Porfiry Petrovich and his ambitious sidekick, Virginsky, are tasked with solving both mysteries.  The professional rivalry between the two men is sharpened by a battle for the teacher’s attention, during which they at times revert to childhood.  Of course, professional ethics means that they can only dream but that doesn’t in the least prevent Virginsky’s green-eyed rivalry from interfering with the investigation.

Further complications arise when Porfiry Petrovich  employs a suspicious man-servant.  Why is he keeping such close track of the investigation? 

One final mystery.  Morris is basing this quartet on Dostoevsky’s novels.  A Razor Wrapped in Silk  is based on The Idiot.  So which of the many varied and vivid characters is the Morrisian equivalent?  I think I know but now I have to read the Dostoevsky to be sure.

To summarise: a multi-layered crime narrative, a history lesson and an inspiration to explore classic C19th Russian fiction.  3 for the price of  one.  Good value for my reading time?  I should say so.  Bring on book four!

P.S  A note to my giveaway winners.   You should all have received copies of the book now.  How are you getting on?  Have you any questions for the author?  I’ll put a post up to collate these after the Easter weekend and with a fair wind, the collaborative interview will happen mid-April.