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akunin's plot thickens

Published: June 18, 2004 (Issue # 978)



  • Akunin: Now available in English
    Photo: For The St. Petersburg Times

Boris Akunin's thrillers have sold more than eight million copies in Russia to date. U.S. publishers hope to cash in on his success.

In most respects, Erast Fandorin is an exemplary specimen of the late 19th century. Though he is only 22 years old and in exceptional health, he never fails to take a walking stick out for his midday stroll. Supper with company demands a starched white collar and a red carnation in the buttonhole. A cigar requires a small silver knife for cutting off the tip. And so on.

But Fandorin, the dapper detective of Boris Akunin's bestselling novels, is a century ahead of his time when it comes to putting two and two together. While strategists these days turn to digital PowerPoint displays to help them organize their thoughts, Fandorin does it without external support, introducing each piece of evidence in order of logical deduction and then stamping it with the no-nonsense bullet point: "That is one ... That is two ... That is three."

Fandorin picks up this habit as a rookie sleuth from a clever (though, ultimately, too clever) superior in "The Winter Queen," or, as it's known locally, "Azazel," the inaugural installment in the crime series that has made Akunin one of the most widely read writers in Russia today. For a country whose underlying chaos never seems far from bubbling to the surface, the neat logic and packaged endings of Akunin's graceful mysteries have flourished like a wistful fantasy. "The main thing is not to rush things, not to jump to the wrong conclusion," Fandorin's superior tells him when introducing the deductive method. Clearly, there is something about this reasoning that appeals to Russians, who have snapped up more than eight million copies of Akunin's Fandorin books to date.

Hoping for a repeat of the Fandorin phenomenon abroad, Random House has timed the paperback release of "The Winter Queen," which came out in English translation by Andrew Bromfield last year, to coincide with the second Fandorin translation, "Murder on the Leviathan." If Western audiences bite, the publisher will have hit the jackpot; the adept and industrious Bromfield has another eight Fandorin mysteries waiting in the wings.

Analysts have spilled a considerable amount of ink explaining why Russians, heir to one of the world's most glorious literary traditions, have gone batty over Akunin's Fandorin mysteries. Literary purists group Akunin into the same heap of thriller writers - Alexandra Marinina, Daria Dontsova, Polina Dashkova - whose paperback books, with their lurid covers and luminescent type, light up Moscow's metro cars during rush hour traffic.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Club’s weekly meeting tonight at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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