Although most of Fyodor Dostoevski’s major works deal with crime, especially murder and suicide, only two of his works fit into the genre of detective fiction, and only one is frequently associated with the popular form known as the murder mystery. Bratya Karamazovy (1879-1880; The Brothers Karamazov, 1912) deals with a murder, a manhunt, and a trial, but Prestupleniye i nakazaniye (1866; Crime and Punishment, 1886) focuses more closely on the nature of crime and its detection. In Crime and Punishment, Dostoevski elevates the murder mystery to the level of great art. Engaging in a penetrating study of the criminal mind, he probes deeply into the psychopathology of crime. He follows the criminal through his obsessions, his anxieties, and his nightmares.
By highlighting the effects of poverty and isolation on potential criminals, Dostoevski depicts the social milieu that breeds crime and encourages criminal behavior. Furthermore, he re-creates big-city life, with its nefarious characters and its hopeless derelicts living at the brink of despair. Probing deeply into the shadows of the human condition, he tries to unearth the root of crime itself.
Dostoevski goes beyond the sociology of crime and murder, however, to explore its politics and metaphysics. Instead of asking who the murderer is, he explores such questions as, is murder permissible? If so, by whom? Under what conditions does one differentiate between the revolutionary and the common criminal? He also follows the criminal beyond the act of his apprehension to explore how crime should be punished. To Dostoevski, crime becomes sin, a sin that must be expiated through deep personal suffering and a mystical transformation of character. Dostoevski does not ask who committed the murder, but why there is murder. In his opinion, the murder mystery is merely a vehicle for exploring the mystery of murder.