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Book Review: Pelagia and the Black Monk by Boris Akunin

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It may seem strange that the detective series should be built around a nun from 19th-century Russia. But Boris Akunin makes it work.

This is not Pelagia's first adventure; we first met her in Pelagia and the White Bulldog where it is made clear that she and her mentor/sidekick/boss, the Bishop Mittrofani, have done this sort of thing before. You see, she's a nun and he's a bishop and both of them share a sense of not just needing to right wrongs because they are Orthodox Christians but also innate curiosity, great intelligence and an ability to think logically.

In Pelagia’s second adventure, she must, when all other avenues have failed, deal with the spectre of a black monk that has been terrorising a monastery’s community.

Unlike the first adventure, Pelagia does not get the freedom to investigate on the Bishop’s behalf until it is apparent that there is no other option, with the first few investigators dying or mysteriously going mad. However, investigate she does, despite the fact that nuns are forbidden to set foot in the monastery.

You will find yourself both delighted and puzzled by the complex plot and charmed by the father-daughter relationship between the Bishop and Pelagia. You will laugh at the way they scold each other, at how clumsy she is, at how accurately Akunin is able to describe human foibles and wonder at the kind of scheme the Bishop and Pelagia resort to using with many misgivings.

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