Like a sail waiting for summer
Always always thinking about you
"Like A Sail Waiting For Summer" (ZARD)
I had to chuckle a little when I first saw the name "Akunin", as it means "villain" in Japanese. I don't know anything about Russian pronouncation by the way, but in Japanese, the name "Akunin" is written with a longated "u" (Akuunin), which at least sounds less evil in Japanese.
Leviathan, or Murder on the Leviathan as it's known in English releases, is the third novel in Russian novelist Boris Akunin's Erast Fandorin series and my first encounter with both the writer and the series. Apparently, Akunin conceived the Erast Fandorin series as a summary of the complete mystery genre: each volume takes on another of the many subgenres of the wider mystery genre, for example a spy-mystery, comical mystery etcetera. Leviathan is the one most interesting for this blog, as it is what is described as an "Agatha Christie-style" novel, with a whodunnit plot set in an exotic place.
While Christie was not as cozy as some appear to be thinking, nine people poisoned and another man beaten to death in one go is still rather a bit more brutal than Christie usually was though.
I enjoyed Leviathan a lot, almost surprisingly so. Most of all, it's really well-written story. The story starts off with some newspaper clippings on 'the Crime of the Century', and then the narration 'zaps' between Gauche and all of his suspects. The personalities of each of the characters really shine throught in the parts they narrate and it's quite fun to see the same event through different eyes. The characters are all a bit larger-than-life and coupled with the setting on the Leviathan, it really invokes a "Classic Detective Story" vibe.
I do have to admit that the overall mystery plot is not that surprising; I think a lot of people will correctly guess who Gauche's target is after a while, because at times Akunin is playing a bit too close to the genre conventions and as a detective story. I can't say that Leviathan had something truly surprising to offer. Yes, it was fun, and yes, it follows the genre conventions in an adequate way, but don't expect an Evil Under the Sun or Murder on the Orient Express from this. The writing does help a lot in making this book memorable though.
Leviathan opens with a summary of the 'Crime of the Century' set in Paris and while there are no notes, I am pretty sure it's based on the infamous Teigin Case that happened in Tokyo, 1948. A man claiming to be from the Public Health Department showed up at the Teikoku Bank (Teigin), saying he was ordered by the US occupation troops to inoculate the staff against a sudden outbreak of dysentery. The staff-members were all given a pill and a liquid, which they took at the same time on the mark of the man. The liquid, however, turned out to be a cyanide solution and while everyone was incapitated, the man ran away with a fortune (I wrote a little on the case at Criminal Element). The case would serve as an inspiration for several stories, like one by Matsumoto Seichou, Yokomizo Seishi's Akuma ga Kitarite Fue wo Fuku or Ellery Queen's real crime short story Tokyo’s Greatest Bank Robbery. It's funny to see how the Teigin Case also inspired a Russian writer.
Anyway, Leviathan was a very amusing read. The set-up, like the pay-off, is very classic and while it is not particularly original in terms of mystery, the writing is sharp and funny and overall, the reader should be left satisfied. I am not sure if I'll read more of the series though: like I said, Leviathan was the book most fitting to my own interests, with other subgenres used in the Erast Fandorin series, like the spy-thriller, just not as appealing to me as a reader.
Original Russian title(s): Борис Акунин "Левиафан"