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by Boris Akunin
Weidenfeld and Nicolson, August 2005
336 pages
ISBN: 0297645536

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Boris Akunin is the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili. He has only been writing fiction since 1998 but is amazingly prolific, having penned nine Erast Fandorin novels up until 2004 and goodness knows how many other works since then. He puts to use his knowledge of Japanese in the creation of Masa, unorthodox Yakuza assistant to Fandorin in 19th century Moscow.

Fandorin has returned to Moscow in order to take up an appointment with the governor-general. On arriving at his hotel, he is delighted to note that an old friend, General Sobolev, is also in residence. Determined to renew the acquaintance, Erast attempts to speak to Gukmasov, a captain in the general's retinue, but is snubbed by him, to Fandorin's great mortification and bemusement.

Then comes tragic news, Sobolev, who rejoices in the nickname Achilles, has died. Erast Petrovich has been ostensibly invited to a meeting of notables with the governor to discuss means of obtaining funding to fill the seemingly bottomless maw of the rebuilding of the Cathedral. But when the news of General Sobolev's death is brought to the governor by the same Gukmasov who humiliated Fandorin the previous day, collegiate assessor Erast manages to convince the governor that there should be an investigation into the death, which he perceives to be suspicious, and has himself included amongst the investigators.

Fandorin's amazing methods of detection and disguise are exercised in the first part of the tale as he tries to identify the assassin. The next part is devoted to the life and upbringing of the murderer himself. The mirror image of the investigation is detailed in this section so that the reader sees a room in which all the main characters are disguised, from both sides of the case. It is quite a successful manoeuvre.

This novel is truly over the top fun. There are mysterious martial arts, multiple disguises, beautiful 'modern' women (who are, nonetheless, still very vulnerable) abused children, murderous 'handkerchief' duels, undetectable poisons, gallons of blood and old-fashioned political corruption and conniving, to name but a few of the myriad amusements on display.

This is not one to be missed. It would, perhaps, be advisable for the reader to jot down a 'key' to the characters as the Russian names are, to me at least, very confusing -- all those Ks and Hs! Any reader who enjoys entertainment pushed to the limit cannot fail to be pleased with this adventure and be left hoping for more.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, October 2005

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