November 15, 2003

A new sleuth, at last!

Charlene and I both recently enjoyed the mystery novel The Winter Queen, by Boris Akunin. Akunin has become a best-seller in Russia, and this is the first of a detective series set in Czarist times, this one in 1876. The hero, Erast Fandorin, is a young clerk hoping to make a career in the Moscow police.

But this is unlike any police novel you will read from the western world. It's strange and Russian, full of quirky comedy, sudden shifts of fortune and labyrinthine conspiracies reminiscent of Foucault's Pendulum. It starts with two students who have been alarming the city, wandering around playing "American Roulette." That is, carrying revolvers with one cartridge and attempting to shoot themselves. Eventually one succeeds. Here is an excerpt from his suicide note:

Gentlemen living after me!

Since you are reading this little letter of mine, I have already departed from you and gone on to learn the secret of death, which remains concealed from your eyes behind seven seals. I am free while you must carry on living in torment and fear. However, I wager that in the place where I am now and from where, as the Prince of Denmark expressed it, no traveller has yet returned, there is absolutely nothing at all. If anyone should not be in agreement, I respectfully suggest that he investigate for himself....

Highly recommended. Alas, though there are 10 books written about Erast Fandorin, the next one to be translated into English won't appear until next Spring.

I often feel that good mystery novels just aren't being written any more. What a treat to discover I'm wrong. Mostly I just re-read old favorites, though there have been two other good authors we've found in the last decade or so. Arturo Perez-Reverte (especially The Flanders Panel) and Iain Pears.

Posted by John Weidner at November 15, 2003 6:18 PM
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