The greatest crime writer ever?

Apparently in Russia it is considered odd, perhaps even impossible to love both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, you must be pro- one or the other. I have no doubt where my loyalties lie. I enjoy Tolstoy, but I love Dostoevsky. So after having a particularly bad month I decided to turn to Dostoevsky, and what is generally considered to be his greatest novel, The brothers Karamazov.

I've never read it before. The size alone is quite off-putting, and it is a very Victorian novel, lots of philosophy and religion, and seemingly irrelevant asides. All in all the first half took quite a bit of getting through, although it was all necessary in order to set up the second half of the novel.

What I had forgotten, and should have known as Crime and Punishment was one of the first Russian novels I read, is that Dostoevsky is a great crime writer, and nowhere is this more evident than Brothers Karamazov. The novel centres on the Karamazov family - 3 brothers bearing the Karamazov surname, and a fourth brother who bears the nickname of his unfortunate mother, who was taken advantage of by the boys' father, the repellant, abusive Karamazov senior.

When Karamazov senior is brutally murdered there seems no doubt as to who is the murderer, but the truth is rather more surprising. The last half of the novel is one of the great crime novels of all time and a huge influence on Patricia Highsmith, for whom it must have inspired Strangers on a train. There are also elements of surrealism, an inspiration to later Russian writers such as my personal favourite, Bulgakov, and the later school of magic realism.

It's not one of the easiest novels to read, and some of its religion and philosophy can feel very outdated, but it many ways it's an outstandingly modern tale of greed, cruelty and madness, with some astonishingly well-written independent women. Perservere through the first half, and you can see why this novel is so highly rated.


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