Friday, March 02, 2012
The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin
The Winter Queen is set in 1870s Moscow, St. Petersburg, and London and features Boris Akunin's sleuth, Erast Fandorin. Fandorin is a young paper pusher for a criminal investigative unit. He is quite bored with clerking and jumps at the chance to investigate the suicide of a wealthy student. Fandorin's superior believes this to be an open and shut case -- though a bit curious -- and sends his young clerk off to investigate. In the course of his investigation, Fandorin stumbles into a vast and international revolutionary conspiracy.
Language and writing
The language and writing are sometimes quite glorious. For instance, here is the opening line:
"On Monday the thirteenth of May in the year 1876, between the hours of two and three in the afternoon on a day that combined the freshness of spring with the warmth of summer, numerous individuals in Moscow's Alexander Gardens unexpectedly found themselves eyewitnesses to the perpetration of an outrage that flagrantly transgressed the bounds of common decency."
As I read The Winter Queen, I kept thinking, "Wow. This is so Russian. This author writes like a Russian. Wow." Then I would remind myself that Boris Akunin IS Russian with a wonderful translator. I believe what kept throwing me was how reminiscent of 19th century Russian authors Akunin seemed. More specifically, Akunin reminded me of Gogol and Chekhov -- a bit romantic and moody, a bit surreal, with a touch of the grotesque. This particular combination has the overall effect of discreet humor. There was also a Sherlockian sense about the novel with a focus on Fandorin's deductive reasoning. Fandorin must peel back multiple layers and each layer changes the "landscape" so that he must reorient and deduce again. Oh, and Fandorin has a nemesis.
Fandorin is naive and likeable in this opener to the series, but expect him to develop over the life of the series.
The "bad guys" are easy enough to spot, but interesting. How many authors write in a pedagogical puppeteer and "revolution through education"? I don't want to say too much and spoil it for future readers, but there are definitely some interesting characters.
The ending and a look to the future
The ending is bittersweet, but allows one to anticipate the next in the series. I look forward to reading more of Akunin's Erast Fandorin books to see how he develops this character and to experience some more of that "Oh yeah, this IS a Russian novel" surprise. *smile*
I read this for the Merely Mystery Reading Challenge hosted by Literary Feline.