Sister Pellagia and the Black Monk
Random House, May 2008, $14.00
In the late nineteenth century in Zavolzhsk, Russia late at night a terrorized monk arrives at the abode of Bishop Mitrofanii shouting and weeping simultaneously as he struggles to explain that something has gone terribly wrong at the Hermitage. The Bishop seeing his distraught and unkempt monk becomes concerned as New Ararat Monastery is on the isolated Spartan island as well as an asylum built by a wealthy exile.
The Bishop sends aids to Hermitage to investigate, but those who step forth on the island go insane. With several homicides already, Bishop Mitrofanii is unsure what to do beyond praying. Sister Pelagia wants to go investigate, but females are banned from setting foot on the island. However, when others fail, Sister Pellagia decides to break custom to by going undercover to learn the truth especially about the so called Black Monk who apparently is behind the terror at the hermitage.
The second Sister Pelagia historical amateur sleuth (see SISTER PELLAGIA AND THE WHITE BULLDOG) is an engaging mystery once the heroine takes over the investigation, which comes after the essential background is established as to the players and the locale. Sister Pellagia is a wonderful protagonist who risks everything by violating the Hermitage taboo re females to uncover the truth as she quickly learns nothing or no body including people she has known for a long time are quite like she thought. This is radically different than Boris Akunin’s Erast Petrovich Fandorin series but readers will appreciate the Sister’s inquiries into the mundane and spiritual shortcomings of her late nineteenth century church.