Murder on the Leviathan by Boris Akunin
I have always enjoyed a good mystery, and as I have gotten older my taste seems to run to authors I have never previously read, as well as locales that are somewhere other than in the US.
About a year ago I stumbled onto the works of Boris Akunin, a Russian writer who still lives in that country. He has written a few different series of books, but the one that has gotten the most traction here in the US is his series that features detective/diplomat Erast Fandorin. This is the 3rd book of that series and this time features Erast as a passenger on a passenger liner.
Now all these books are set at the beginning of the 20th century, and this one takes us back to 1906. The book begins with the discovery of a mass murder and robbery in Paris, and the subsequent discovery that a statue of Shiva was taken, along with a shawl which was apparently used to hide the statue from plain sight. For those concerned about the details of the mass murder, let me assure you that there is nothing graphic in the book. The upstart is that 10 people in that household are killed and someone has absconded with what appears to be a very valuable statue.
The first twist comes when just a few days later the statue is discovered by a young boy fishing on the river Seine. Why was the Shiva discarded? What was the purpose of the killings and robbery? How were the mass murders accomplished and who was behind this?
Luckily for us there was a clue left behind. One of the deceased had died clutching onto a pin of a golden whale (Leviathan), and which pin had been distributed to all those first class passengers who were making up the Inaugural cruise on the luxury line, Leviathan. And on the trail of the killer is Paris Police Inspector Gauche, a veteran of the Paris force who is only a year or so from retirement and who is hopes to obtain a feather in his cap by catching the killer.
Inspector Gauche has been able to contact the owners of the liner and discover that certain people in first class were not wearing that distinctive gold pin, and therefore he is certain that one of these people are the killer. He arranges for all those without a gold pin to be situated in the same dinner stateroom and our journey begins with about 8 prime suspects along with Inspector Gauche sailing from France to Calcutta. There are port stops along the way, and Gauche needs to find the killer before they depart in Calcutta, or are able to leave the liner at one of the port stops.
Joining the cruise at Port Said, Egypt is Erast Fandorin who also does not display the gold pin and therefore is put into the same dining accomodations as the others, but who Gauche is able to detect is not a murderer but rather a detective/diplomat who had no involvement into the affair.
There is a distinct difference between Gauche and Fandorin, and it is fun to see the author use the techniques of both Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. In Gauche we have a parody of Christie’s master detective Hercule Poirot, whereas Fandorin is pure Sherlock Holmes. The two detectives team up to solve this crime, and Gauche is always trying to get the better of Fandorin.
Complicating this investigation is that fact that along the way there are also a series of murders on the liner (including some of the suspects) and now the race is not just against the clock, but rather to make sure that the killer is stopped before more mayhem develops on the boat.
Especially enjoyable is that the author writes each chapter through the eyes of one of the characters. We learn something about each person either through diaries, news clippings, letter or by that characters thought process. Each chapter begins this way and then slips into the action on the ship.
Will Gauche or Fandorin solve the crime? What was stolen and why? Will a killer get away with murder? What intrigues do each of these characters have In their lives? All these and a whole lot more are answered by the end of this book and gets us ready for more of Erast Fandorin in the other books in this series.
These are not the easiest books to procure, but I get mine from either the local public library or through the libray at Furman University. They are easy enough to read, but don’t be fooled by the shortness of the books. Akunin packs his books with loads of detail and intrigue so that from the very beginning we are sent into a truly unique mystery, one you do not want to miss. Come join me, “the game is afoot.”