Crime and Punishment
By Fyodor Dostoevsky
First Published: 1866
Translated by: Constance Garnett
Illustrated by: Benjamin Kopman
Review © 2009 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Classic, Crime Fiction, Thriller
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky is a literature “classic” that is generally considered to be one of the greatest novels of all time. It’s a Russian novel that was originally published in 1866 so modern readers may worry that this novel could be too foreign or too out of date to be relevant or engaging today. I’m here to tell you that you needn’t worry about these concerns. This is a fascinating, original, crime thriller that is one of the most satisfying novels I’ve read.
The originality of this crime thriller is demonstrated right near the beginning when the protagonist, Raskolnikov commits the crime of murder. Eliminating the “who done it” mystery and having the protagonist be obviously guilty from the start seems to be the opposite of what would make a good crime thriller. But Dostoevsky creates a gripping psychological drama which gradually unfolds multiple layers of interactions between a cast of diverse characters. The mysteries become “Why did he do it?”, “Will he be caught?”, and “What will happen to the other main characters?”
What really stands out in Crime and Punishment is the depth of human psychology that Dostoevsky taps from his characters along with a consistent high tension and pacing that doesn’t let up. The characters are not one dimensional or divided neatly into good and bad guys. Dostoevky explores their motivations, desires, and fears. He even probes their subconscious thoughts through dreams and unintentional slips of the tongue. The tension reaches the highest pitch when Raskolnikov meets the detective Porifory and they engage in serious psychological battles for the ultimate in high stakes. These battles are deadly tests that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The psychology that Dostoevsky explores is incredible when you consider that this was written before most modern psychology was developed. Freud and Jung were not even published yet.
Dostoevsky explores some heavy themes in Crime and Punishment including the obvious themes expressed in the title. He also explores the idea of the “superman” described by Jung and the Machievellian concept of “do the ends justify the means?” He investigates sin, sinners, and saints and points out the gulf between upper and lower classes. But you needn’t worry about this novel becoming dry and boring. The first 100 pages or so may be a little slow as Dostoevsky lays the groundwork for the novel but the remainder of the novel is a high tension psychological drama. Sometimes the novel verges on excessive melodrama but somehow Dostoevsky manages to maintain a sense of realism.The only issue with this book is that the names are long and difficult for English readers. In addition, the characters are referred to sometimes by their first names, sometimes by their last names, and sometimes by their titles. This is confusing initially but once you manage to get the names straight, you can sit back and enjoy a masterpiece. Crime and Punishment falls easily into the top 5 novels that I’ve read. Don’t miss one of the best crime thrillers ever!