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Pelagia and the Black Monk / Sister Pelagia…

Pelagia and the Black Monk / Sister Pelagia and the Black Monk

by Boris Akunin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Sr. Pelagia Mysteries (2)

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English (6)  French (1)  All languages (7)
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Sister Pelagia and the Black Monk is the second book translated to English in Boris Akunin's series about a young nun who is incredibly adept at gymnastics and solving crimes. I read the first book in the series, Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog, just over a year ago and really enjoyed it. This book had many of the same features that attracted me to the first novel.

The setting of this series of mysteries is rural Russia, I believe in the early 1900s because this second book (which takes place directly after the first) references the work of Madame Curie which was first published in 1898. The mysteries in both of these books are very well formed and not at all predictable. In this current novel, a spectral "black monk" is appearing at a hermitage in their district, provoking hysteria and even death. After unsucessful investigations by three other people, Sister Pelagia eventually takes it on herself to travel to this monastery and solve the mystery. She is quite amusing in that, in both books, she takes on the persona of a Muscovite widow and dresses in the latest fashions, pretending to be a layperson. In this one she also adds a second disguise -- a young male monk.

Some of the more interesting parts of these books are not in the narratives at all but in the religious discussions between Sister Pelagia and her mentor, Bishop Mitrofanii. It is very intriguing to get a glimpse of Russian Orthodoxy about 100 years ago. More in the first book than this second one, there is quite a bit of information about rural political structure in Russia which is also interesting. These books are fantastic as both historical studies and mysteries. I again must complement Akunin's English translator, Andrew Bromfield, as I have ready many a poor translation from Russian.

http://webereading.com/2009/03/square-onto-which-windows-of-district.html ( )
  klpm | Feb 16, 2011 |
I just finished reading Boris Akunin's latest mystery featuring Sister Pelagia. I don't think that it is necessary to read "Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog" before reading this one, but it certainly gives a bit of background, and enriches Pelagia's character if you do.

This was an eerie, exciting and slightly disturbing read. I love the sense of history you get from Akunin's work, and this book is no exception.

If you enjoyed reading Micheal Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," you will certainly enjoy "Sister Pelagia and the Black Monk." ( )
  SarahSpira | Jul 6, 2009 |
Boris Akunin first made a name for himself in the West with his Erast Fandorin series of detective novels set in 19th century Russia. He has shelved Fandorin for Sister Pelagia, a young nun stationed in a provincial Russia capital who serves the Bishop Mitrofanii.

The Black Monk picks up, literally, where Akunin's first Sister Pelagia book ended. Thus, first things first, no one should read this book without having read Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog: A Mystery.

A frightened monk roars into town proclaiming that Saint Basilisk has returned to a provincial religious retreat and is haunting the town. The religious retreat consists of two islands: on the smaller island is St. Basilisk's Hermitage now inhabited only by three hermits; on the larger island, an ambitious abbot (archimandrite) has turned the monastery into a thriving spiritual tourist attraction. Mitrofanii dispatches one investigator after another, but each meets with some ill turn or another. Inevitably, Pelagia goes to the island in her disguise as a Muscovite lady.

With The Black Monk, Akunin has moved beyond the realm of genre or pulp fiction and into literature on a plane with Umberto Eco (one of his influences). But don't worry! Akunin still sets us a good mystery - or two or three - and combines that with compelling psychological studies of his characters' motivations and compulsions and a clash of mysticism with science - not to mention some funny if implicit commentary on commercialism in modern Russia.

Akunin works under the spell of Dostoevsky and Chekov to name only two. Indeed, the book's title comes from a Chekov short story of the same name (See Chekhov, The Selected Stories of). One of Akunin's characters is reading Dostoevsky's The Possessed (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) (Barnes & Noble Classics) (also known as The Devils) and lends it another character, an actor who fully absorbs himself into his roles and who also happens to be an inmate at the open air psychiatric clinic on the island! What could possibly go wrong?

Highest recommendation. ( )
  dougwood57 | Aug 1, 2008 |
The story's very convoluted, but she's a kick. ( )
  picardyrose | Jul 20, 2008 |
The strength of this novel lies in its minatures, those rather beautiful sketches of a host of characters. Not caricatures despite perhaps the temptation to take such flamboyant and potentially strange people and paint them brightly but sensitive, quirky, amusing and just a little sad portrayals.

This quite charming book revolves around the mysterious events in the community of New Ararat; the appearance of a hooded figure has caused some unpleasantness but when the local bishop begins to send his trusted companions one-by-one to investigate, madness and chaos descend.
I think that to explain further would diminish the pleasure of the reader in each new decription but suffice to say the answer isn't mystical but the means to it are intellectual and moral.
Occasionally the translation feels a little clunky and if you get distracted it might be difficult to pick up the thread because it meanders in a way Russian seem particularly good at. Don't expect a fast-pace but do invent stories for the patients at the clinic.
I was pleased by the way the author tied up the little snippets given to the reader throughout even when they were 'red herrings' which to me is the sign of a good mystery writer, and I also liked the touch that it wasn't solved by one person alone but for their bumbling side-kick and instead gently guided the reader to its conclusion. ( )
  LittleKnife | May 9, 2008 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Boris Akuninprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bromfield, AndrewTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trottenberg, DorotheaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812975146, Paperback)

In the middle of the night, a disheveled and badly frightened monk arrives at the doorstep of Bishop Mitrofanii of Zavolzhsk, crying: “Something’s wrong at the Hermitage!” The Hermitage is the centuries-old island monastery of New Ararat, known for its tradition of severely penitent monks, isolated environs, and a mental institution founded by a millionaire in self-imposed exile. Hearing the monk’s eerie message, Mitrofanii’s befuddled but sharp-witted ward Sister Pelagia begs to visit New Ararat and uncover the mystery. Traditions prevail–no women are allowed–and the bishop sends other wards to test their fates against the Black Monk that haunts the once serene locale. But as the Black Monk claims more victims–including Mitrofanii’s envoys–Pelagia goes undercover to see exactly what person, or what spirit, is at the bottom of it all.

Fans of Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog, the first book in Akunin’s Pelagia trilogy, will be instantly mesmerized–and frightened–by this latest foray into Zavolzhsk’s spiritual underworld.


“For all his status as a globe-circling bestseller, Akunin keeps faith in his sleekly engineered and allusive whodunnits with the classical virtues of Russian prose. . . . That polish lends his books a peculiar charm.”
–The Independent (London)

“Readers can hear echoes of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Anton Chekov in whodunits that, because of their literary overtones, can be guiltlessly consumed as entertainment.”
–Los Angeles Times

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:01 -0400)

The monks of New Arafat believe the Black Monk that haunts their centuries-old island monastery is responsible for the death of one of their own. When the Black Monk claims more victims--including Bishop Mitrofanii's envoys--Sister Pelagia goes undercover to see exactly what person, or what spirit, is at the bottom of it all.… (more)

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