There's a beast on board
Murder on the Leviathan - Boris Akunin
Member Name: sunmeilan
Murder on the Leviathan - Boris Akunin
Advantages: Entertaining, good plot
Disadvantages: Too 'busy', annoying characters
Boris Akunin is a Russian author, whose series of books featuring his fictional detective, Erast Fandorin, have become best-sellers across the world. Fandorin is certainly an original creation - at least to my eyes. He has been feted as a Russian Sherlock Holmes and, although I think that is over-generous praise, there are certainly elements of Holmes, as well as Hercule Poirot, but with a distinct hint of mickey-taking thrown in for good measure. In this book, he comes across as being rather supercilious creature, whose role is kept out of the limelight for much of the story. A much better introduction to him as a character is The Winter Queen, the first book in the series. Nevertheless, I really liked his role here, precisely because he isn't quite so obvious. A little of Erast Fandorin can go a very long way. Although very young, he is very sure of himself and this can become a little tedious after a while.
The other characters are largely caricatures - usually funny, sometime a little embarrassing. Gauche is described as a complete buffoon, despite the fact that he is one of the most famous French detectives of his time. I have read a suggestion that he is based on Inspector Closeau - and that is very similar to my view of him, although he is not as funny. The other passengers include an English Lord, who is completely loopy in that eccentric upper class British way; a Japanese army officer, who is described as being inscrutable, yet is easily embarrassed; an apparently ordinary Italian Doctor and his wife and a middle-aged woman who has suddenly become wealthy. I loved the Japanese army officer, Aono, myself. He proves to have a wonderful wit and it probably one of the most normal of the passengers, although he certainly has his idiosyncracies. Akunin manages to keep the caricatures the right side of funny - they never become offensive, and, after all, it isn't as though he picks on one particular nationality!
The story could almost have come straight out of the Agatha Christie stable. It is a typical 'closed room' story, in that only a certain number of people are suspects. Anyone who has read 'Death on the Nile' will see distinct parallels here; although Akunin's main murder took place before the suspects were gathered together on board, the atmosphere and the mixture of different personalities and backgrounds are very Christie-like. I really enjoyed the story. There are any number of possibilities, despite the small number of suspects, and very little is given away until later on in the book. When the denouement comes, I really didn't seen it coming and I doubt many other people would either. It is a result that ties up all the ends neatly, which is exactly what I like in my crime fiction, and is definitely very worthy of any comparisons with Agatha Christies' work.
The book is well-written, and it must be noted that the translator, Andrew Bromfield, has done a truly stupendous job of ensuring that the language flows properly. All too often, translated works can be grammatically correct, yet somehow appear wooden. There is no such problem here. Any stiffness in the dialogue is down to the social expectations of the time and is entirely suitable for the book. To be able to translate Akunin's complicated story and wit so eloquently must have been a real labour of love and he deserves as much praise as the author.
My only real criticism of the book is that it is very 'busy'. I think it can add layers to a story when more than one character has the chance to express their point of view. However, it is possible to go overboard, and like Jodi Picoult, I think Akunin has done just that. There are newspaper articles, snatches of Aono's diary, bits of the English aristocrat's letter to his wife and other bits and pieces. I found this irritating and distracting, especially with the different fonts and the need, on occasion, to actually have to turn the book around to read it. I would personally have preferred Akunin to stick to maybe one or two characters, or at least stick to the third person, rather than the constant changes in style. However, some people may find that it actually encourages them to keep reading, so I suppose it is a matter of personal choice.
Overall, I enjoyed this book; it is probably my favourite of the series so far and I've read it three times now. Certainly, I didn't enjoy Turkish Gambit and The Death of Achilles anywhere near as much, although The Winter Queen was also very good. If you're a fan of crime fiction and are looking for something a little bit different, then it is most certainly worth giving this book a go. Don't be put off by the fact that it is a translation, because that really doesn't come across in the narrative. Recommended.
The book is available from Amazon for £5.09. Published by Pheonix, it has 256 pages. ISBN-10: 0753818434
Summary: My favourite Erast Fandorin novel