East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Death and Ghosts in Czarist Russia: Detective Anna

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Did you know you can watch Russian TV shows, subtitled in English, on Youtube? I did not, but yesterday a contact suggested to me a Russian series from 2016, called Detective Anna (or, alternatively, Anna the detective) , and by googling I found it all on Youtube, subtitled, for free.
So I watched the first two episodes, and it was quite fun.

As usual during periods of intensive writing I like to watch a TV series or a movie in the evenings (you may have noticed a lot of posts about serials, recently, on Karavansara), and it looks like Anna Mironova will keep me company in the next few years.

So, what are we talking about…

Freshly transferred from the capital (because of some obscure scandal) to the provincial backwater town of Zatonsk, police detective Iakov Shtolman meets 19 years-old Anna Mironova, daughter of the local gentry, during the investigation of a mysterious death. While Shtolman applies his Holmesian methods to the case, Anna provides further information and hints – because she sees dead people.

Detective Anna is a paranormal mystery, played straight – the crimes are mundane in nature, and Shtolman is a competent detective, and the criminal investigation is always sound and believable. Meanwhile, Anna has to come to terms with the fact that her medium skills – that she first manifested as a child – are back.
The first episodes hint at a budding romance between the older policeman and the young girl – but Aleksandra Nikiforova in the role of Anna looks older than the nominal 19 … she was in fact 23 when the series was shot. But the romance does not seem to be too invasive and the crime and spooky parts are to the front.

The series reminded me, at least in part, Canadian serial The Murdoch Mysteries – the vibe is the same, and in Anna as in Murdoch we have a modern detective, using new technologies to solve crimes in a 19th century setting. In the Russian serial, we also get the paranormal element.
While the reconstruction of the paranormal milieu of the end of the 19th century is presented in a believable manner, the ghosts and apparitions are not particularly spooky or gory, and that’s fine.

Now, of course the cast is, to me “a cast of unknown” – my knowledge of Russian entertainment is close to zero. But the fact that we are dealing with completely new faces is actually a plus.
The production values are good, as befitting a modern period drama, while they are not in the same league of BBC or HBO productions.
There is, about the series – based on the first episodes – a sort of old fashioned style. This is not an edgy or fast/furious show; it’s good old fashioned mystery/period drama, slow, without any directorial invention. It’s plain good TV, and it works as such. I guess my mom would have loved it, just like she loved the Midsomer Murders.

As a fan of paranormal and occult detectives and historical fiction, Detective Anna is very much my cup of tea. And yes, even without a ouija board or the intervention of spirits I was able to solve the first crime rather easily.
But I have great hopes for the rest of the series – it’s different, it’s fun, and the leading lady is gorgeous.
That’s enough for me.
And no, I will not start learning Russian anytime soon.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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