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A Historical Whodunit with a (Very Big) Twist

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With R.N. Morris, author of The Gentle Axe



St. Petersburg, Winter, 1866 - Two frozen bodies are found in an isolated corner of Petrovsky Park. The first - that of a dwarf - has been packed neatly in a suitcase, a deep wound splitting his skull in two. The second body, of a burly peasant, is hanging from a nearby tree, a bloody axe tucked into his belt. The detective Porfiry Petrovich, in his first major murder case since Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, suspects the truth may be more complex than others wish him to believe. His investigation leads him from the squalid tenements, brothels and drinking dens of the city’s Haymarket district to an altogether more genteel stratum of society.

The Gentle Axe

Roger Morris is a gutsy guy. He’s adopted one of literature’s most famous detectives, Porfiry Petrovich, created by one of the greatest writers of all time, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Is he crazy? The world’s most prestigious review publications don’t think so. The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, and even The Moscow Times have awarded The Gentle Axe high praise. Meet the man who would be Dostoyevsky’s disciple.

Born in Manchester in 1960, R.N. Morris now lives in North London with his wife and two young children. He sold his first short story to a teenage girls’ magazine while still a student at Cambridge University, where he read classics. Making his living as a freelance copywriter, he has continued to write, and occasionally publish, fiction. One of his stories, “The Devil’s Drum,” was turned into a one-act opera, which was performed at the Purcell Room in London’s South Bank. Another, Revenants, was published as a comic book.

Join Roger and Writing Show host Paula B. as they explore:

  • What inspired him to take on such a formidable task
  • How much of Dostoyevsky’s style he tried to bring to his work
  • How he fleshed out the character of Dostoyevsky’s detective
  • How he researched 19th century St. Petersburg
  • How writing a whodunit differs from crafting a mystery in which the perpetrator is known
  • What he would tell readers who feel intimidated by the idea of delving into Dostoyevsky
  • How he got published by two of the world’s most respected publishers
  • How he feels about the runaway success of the book.

Interviewee: R.N. Morris
Host: Paula B.
Date: August 12, 2007
Running time: 01:16:09
File size: 37 megabytes
Rating: G
R.N. Morris’ Web sites: Roger’s My Space site;

Purchase The Gentle Axe at

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