I found this book a little difficult to enjoy for two main reasons. Firstly, all the Russian names. They're just so 'foreign' to my eyes, and there's so many of them. People seems to go by at least three different names, and it was hard for me to keep track of who was who. Secondly, the style of writing is very different to anything else I've read. There was a lot of sidetracking off and meandering about before getting to the point.
I also want to say that, like Sherlock Holmes, a lot of the clues were kept secret until the last minute, BUT I don't think I can. I think the clues were actually given to the reader at the same time they were given to the sleuth. It's just that I was so tangled up in the names that I missed them. I would love to read this book with people's name substituted for standard Western European names, "Mr Mark Spense", "Miss Jane Moore" :-)
Having said that, there is an English character, and every time her name, Janet, is mentioned it felt funny. Like an intrusion.
Basic plot outline. The bishop's great aunt writes to him in a state of agitation because someone is killing off her prize dogs. The bishop sends Palagia, a sleuthing nun, to find out the truth. On her way to the aunt's estate, Palagia passes a gruesome find by officials - two headless bodies. Of course, by the end of the book she has worked who is killing the dogs and who beheaded the bodies.
Intertwined in that is a lot of interesting information about Russian culture and thinking at the turn of the century. Fascinating, if only I could work out who it was all about.
The whole time I reading the book the name "Palagia" kept bothering me. I knew I had come across it before. I wondered if maybe I had seen a TV or movie adaptation of the books (apparently there's more than one). Eventually, with the help of Google, I worked it out. Palagia is also the main character of Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
I will quite possibly seek out more of Akunin's books, if only because the cultural revelations are so fascinating. I give this book a 5. After all, my ability to keep track of the characters really isn't the author's issue.