Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Death and Causes

For my Kirkus Reviews column this week, I interviewed British historical novelist R.N. “Roger” Morris, whose fourth thriller starring Porfiry Petrovich--the investigating magistrate borrowed from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s famous 1866 novel, Crime and Punishment--has just been published by Faber and Faber in the UK. Titled The Cleansing Flames, it takes place in 1872 and finds Porfiry, along with his junior associate, Pavel Pavlovich Virginsky, probing the discovery of a corpse in St. Petersburg’s Winter Canal and efforts by radical intellectuals to foment revolution in Tsarist Russia.

You’ll can read that interview here.

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Because Kirkus prefers that its posts ring in at not too much over 1,000 words in length, I had to cut out some parts of my exchange with Morris. But there’s no sense in letting those go to waste. So here’s what didn’t make it into the finished piece:

J. Kingston Pierce: How has your perspective on Crime and Punishment--or, perhaps, on Dostoevsky himself--changed since you began writing this series?

R.N. Morris: Interesting question. I think I’m even more in awe of it, and him, than I was to begin with. As well as being extremely grateful to him, and it. And it’s only now that I’ve written the four books, that I really understand how insane my original idea was. So I think if I’d had the attitude to Dostoevsky then that I have now, I would probably not have attempted it.

Many people think of Russian novels as downbeat and turgid. With the Porfiry series, it seems you’ve sought to incorporate a flavor of Dostoevsky’s style without trying to copy it. Am I right?

Actually, I think there’s a lot of humor in Dostoevsky, maybe not so much in Crime and Punishment, but there’s certainly social satire in The Idiot, for example. I haven’t tried to copy Dostoevsky’s style--I couldn’t, because essentially my only experience of his style is through translation. I’m not a Russian speaker, or reader even, so I’m reliant on translation. The New York Times said that Gentle Axe felt like a translation of an overlooked book by one of Dostoevsky’s contemporary imitators. I think that’s pretty fair, and pretty much the effect I was going for. I imagined myself using his literary palette, trying to stick to the mood and atmosphere of his work, using some of his themes. But essentially my intention has been simply to write some entertaining mystery stories.

Only the first two Porfiry novels have been published in the United States. Are there any plans to release the latter pair here as well?

I’d love for the other two books to be published in America but, so far, no publisher has offered to do that. It’s a shame, because I think as a writer I’ve improved over the series. In my own view, the books do get better. And I do get some lovely e-mails from American readers who have enjoyed the first books and want to continue the series.

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