It’s June 1868 in a hot St Petersburg and Porfiry Petrovich is a troubled man. The ditch outside his office is stinking and the Department of Public Health is doing nothing about it. A double murder has just landed on his desk. He’s training someone who first needs to learn to curb his tongue. He can’t resist the urge to smoke. And finally, his haemorrhoids are bothering him.
In a nutshell:
It looks like an open and shut case. Dr Meyer returned home with a box of chocolates for his wife Raisa Ivanovna. After he retired to another room, Raisa Ivanovna and their son Grigory tuck into the chocolates and soon they suffer the most horrific of deaths. Porfiry Petrovich is sure that Dr Meyer is responsible. But then comes another case with no obvious link. Colonel Setochkin is shot dead in his apartment and Vakhramyev, with whom he’d just been arguing is found with the gun in his hand, near the body. When questioning Vakhramyev, Porfiry Petrovich hears of something for which no physical evidence can be located, but there is a tenuous link to the poisoning case, which causes Porfiry Petrovich to revisit his thoughts and assumptions…
As in A Gentle Axe, we are taken into the seedier side of St Petersburg where life is hard and where people will do what they have to do in order to survive. Where some manage to achieve better lives, hidden pasts and secrets always remain. Where some harbour ambitions for a better life and find them thwarted, bitterness courses through their veins for the rest of their lives. All have a reputation to maintain and this is essentially the theme of the novel: to what lengths will people actually go to protect their own and their families’ reputation and standing?
Porfiry Petrovich has a difficult time on his hands here. There are distractions and hindrances to his investigation, not least the beliefs and actions of Lieutenant Salytov.
This novel keeps you questioning and guessing until the end as Morris has written A Vengeful Longing so that the reader discovers the facts and follows the investigation as Porfiry Petrovich does. Morris’s brilliant writing will have you on the spot in St Petersburg in 1868 in your head and trying to control emotions that Porfiry Petrovich will not let get in the way of his investigation.
This is his third published novel, although the second in this series and there is absolutely no evidence of “second novel syndrome” here. Re-introducing Porfiry Petrovich may have seemed a little cheeky at first, but Morris goes from strength to strength. I imagine that Dostoevsky would be pleased with this homage and achievement. (Morris’s series may even tempt some to try the classic Crime and Punishment.)
A Vengeful Longing is published by Faber and Faber on 7 February 2008 in the UK.
Finally, don’t forget the “Gaslit” event at Waterstone’s in Hampstead on 7 Feb, where Morris will be talking about his series, this novel and signing copies, along with Lee Jackson, Andrew Martin and Frank Tallis. And if you can’t sit for too long and you’re of a certain age, don’t mention haemorrhoids!