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January 27, 2005

Review: Murder on the Leviathan

Murder on the Leviathan

Boris Akunin is currently one of the most popular authors in Russia, if the dust jackets of his recently translated Erast Fandorin novels are to be believed. Even were they not, they should be, for in Erast Fandorin, Akunin has created a Russian diplomat very much in the image of Sherlock Holmes, albeit without the benefit of a Dr. Watson.

Last year, I read The Winter Queen, the first of the Fandorin novels and the first translated into English. Since then, at least two more have been translated into English, the second of which is Murder on the Leviathan. The translator is once again Andrew Bromfield; I cannot say whether he accurately translates from the Russian, but the style of his translation is very much in the spirit of a Victorian writer, so it exactly matches my expectations.

Though The Winter Queen is a finer book, Leviathan is not completely a sophomore slump -- it is entertaining and reminds one of a cross between a cozy and a Holmes pastiche¹. Akunin is a bit fairer in his presentation of detail -- unlike in Doyle's stories, you have every bit of information to solve this mystery well in advance of the final pages, which was not always the case with a Holmesian story. I confess that there was little in the way of surprise about "whodunnit", though there was far more supporting detail to the mystery than I had gathered together.

The setting for the plot is as follows: having found evidence at the scene of a horrific crime which incriminates either a passenger or a crewman of a cruise ship, a French Inspector is purchased a first-class ticket by the gendarmerie and boards to find the killer. Among the suspects is our hero, Erast Fandorin, who joins with the rest of the suspects in an on-board salon for meals and conversation over a period of several weeks while Inspector Gauche² seeks out his killer.

The particulars of the murders which start off the novel are suitably horrible as to excite our attention, and events on-board escalate suitably -- at points this is quite an adventure. Occasionally I need a good murder mystery, and this certainly fit the bill.

¹There is even a section wherein Fandorin identifies details about fellow passengers only via his observations of them. And the setting: pure Christie, see Death on the Nile.
²A perfect name for this policeman, who is a bit of a buffoon -- every great sleuth needs his foil.

Posted by Brett Douville at January 27, 2005 10:34 PM