"It’s been a great year for crime fiction—alas! Picking a single new crime novel to hand out to friends is a wrenching assignment, but after much grinding of teeth, I have to settle on A Gentle Axe by RN Morris. The novel features Porfiry Petrovich, the calmly relentless investigator from Crime and Punishment, teasing apart a bizarre crime in 1860s St. Petersburg. Borrowing a memorable character from Dostoevsky is an audacious act, but Morris does it with unhesitating skill. Details of the workings of the Russian justice system are slipped in without smelling of research, and the atmosphere of 19th-century St. Petersburg is rendered vividly yet easily, providing as neat a time machine as any reader could demand.
Despite the risks in treading hallowed literary ground, lovers of Dostoevsky (including myself) have generally responded to Morris’ novel with pleasure rather than outrage. A Gentle Axe is a perfect gift because it works equally well on three different levels—as a detective story, as an historical novel, and as an affectionate literary homage. Any reader is bound to succumb to at least one of those charms, and most will enjoy all three."