Boris Akunin, Sister Pelagia and the Red Cockerel

Sister Pelagia and the Red Cockerel is the third of Boris Akunin’s mystery series starring an insatiably curious Orthodox nun named Pelagia, who seems to get mixed up in some very unsavory affairs on a regular basis. This outing finds Pelagia traveling to the Holy Land in pursuit of a mysterious wandering stranger and facing mortal danger (as well as fleas) on a constant basis.

I thought this was the weakest of the Pelagia novels. The setting is mostly outside the fictional town of Zavolszhk and outside Russia altogether, so Pelagia’s wanderings in the then-Ottoman province of Palestine don’t have the atmosphere that the other novels do. Secondly, the mystery is more opaque and hinges around metaphysical questions of faith rather than human evildoers (although there are plenty of those!) and therefore, I found that aspect less satisfying as well. Finally, Pelagia keeps getting into trouble and mostly getting out of it simply because of random coincidences, rather than (as she has in the past) using her own formidable wits to get her out of tight spots. (Also, the body count wasenormous in this one, which was a bit off-putting!) The ending makes me think this is going to be the last Pelagia novel, so I guess Akunin decided to kill off as many folks as possible!

(Read from February 3-February 8, 2010)


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