The third in a series of books that began with A Gentle Axe and continued with A Vengeful Longing, Morris' A Razor Wrapped in Silk takes place in Czarist St. Petersburg and features Porfiry Petrovich, the investigating magistrate created by Dostoevsky for Crime and Punishment. Lest you think this abusive or derivative, rest assured that Morris handles both Petrovich and Dostoevsky's Russia with great respect. If anything, this book stands as a great tribute to an intriguing character and an author whose ideas have influenced a great deal of literature.
The story itself weaves together two mysteries: one, the brutal slaying of a much-loved woman; the other, the disappearance of a young boy who worked in a factory and was attending an experimental new school. With a similar feel to Conan Doyle's Holmes when international affairs got involved, and with a touch of Dostoevsky himself, the stories unfold at three levels: the intriguing work of discovering and interpreting clues; the emotional drama of those caught up in the crimes; all with an eye to the politics and ideological clash in the world around them. Petrovich, as a detective, is a man of striking intellect and entertaining personality, but as much as he is the center-piece of the story, his character never overwhelms the rest of the narrative.
From the outset, the thing that is most impressive about A Razor Wrapped in Silk isn't the mystery (which is well-crafted), isn't the detective (of whom I can't wait to read more in the earlier books), isn't the prose (which is sharp and bleakly vivid), and isn't even the political intrigue (engagingly related but with a fair hand). What is most impressive is the way that the story is told. The reader is immediately immersed into the world, and the story reads as if 19th Century Russia is the most natural place for a book to place. There is no sense of marvel or wonder. There is no subtle suggestion that the reader should be entertained by the differences between the world of the book and the world in which they live. There is no implication that the real point of the book is to show off Dostoevsky's St. Petersburg to readers.
Instead, A Razor Wrapped in Silk is drenched in authenticity.
It is difficult to completely scrub time and place from the English language, but apart from a few very brief moments in which a character's speech strikes an American "ear" as rather British, and a climactic sequence that feels a bit more modern, Morris has put together a book that feels very much as if it were simply published out-of-time.
A Razor Wrapped in Silk is available in UK paperback and also on Kindle in the US and internationally, as well as through various after-market resellers.