on 2 October 2011
This is an unusually long book for Akunin, and the tone is generally direct and serious rather than whimsical - not too much of that Russian verbal humour that is so tricky to translate. As a result it is also exceptionally satisfying, whether for an established Akunin fan or someone dipping into the saga of Fandorin, the Russian Sherlock Holmes-equivalent, for the first time. Running from the time of the Russo-Japanese war in 1905 (with the first Russian revolution peeping over the horizon) back to the young Fandorin's first experiences in Japan, it is full of colour and incident as well as insights into the hero's formative experiences. It is also a cracking detective story with a kind of 'Chinese boxes' construction that reveals twist after twist - with the best and most shocking on the final page. Thoroughly recommended.
on 12 November 2011
Boris Akunin's latest Erast Fandorin saga is a gripping read, at whatever level it is taken. On a straight reading, it is a vintage schoolboy romp through Russian and Japanese spies' and agents' plots and intrigues, with ninja figures displaying fantastical magical powers pitted against the illustrious detective who deploys intelligence, courage and physique. Exaggeration certainly produces effect. A string of characters meet gruesome deaths by exotic means. Fandorin is frequently saved miraculously. National characteristics, Russian, Japanese and British, are totally stereotyped. So don't expect an accurate historical novel.
Whether Akunin intends or allows a second level reading, where the tale becomes myth of the type exemplified by Hindu religion's Ram and Sita myth, is not clear. But there are sufficient hints in the closing sections to suggest some reflection on motivation in life, whether love, patriotism, `honour' which can be distorted to frequent suicide as an evasion of responsibility, self, friendship, tradition, tribe etc. As myth, the story generates potential deep debate, but perhaps that would spoil the hugely enjoyable escapist schoolboy romp?
on 24 September 2011
I have loved this series since seeing recomended in The Times a few years back. From the first book I have fell in love with the style of writing, the variety of storylines and the great character development. Watching Mr Fandorin develop as a character has been a true pleasure though I must admit to falling slightly out of love with the character the more analytical, cold and clincial that he becomes.
The first third of the book is the story of modern day Fandorin in a new case, based in and around the Russo Japanese war it is both engaging and interesting. It is exciting, well paced and whilst not a mystery the steps taken are thoroughly enjoyable.
Then came the real pleasure, the other two thirds of the book are set in the earlier life of our hero back when he visited Japan, something which has always been aluded too but never examined and what a great tour de force this is! It was a trip down memory lane and a real joy, like bumping into an old friend you expected never to see again, seeing young Fandorin once again. The analytical yet socially awkward youngster, the great mind without the self confidence to follow, the slightly unsure and reserved air of the character is truly great to behold once again. It took me back to a, what was for myself, perfect time in the series, a time of the series that I loved the most and I thank the author for allowing us back in.
The story itself is very good. Well paced with the intricate twists and turns that you expect from the greatest Akunin novels. The characters are all well portrayed the villans are dastardley, the dames are delicious and the scenes the author paints are both believable and magnificent. The book kept me guessing until the very end and the end itself, it was a truly heart rending moment. A moment that has defined the character throughout the series, a glimpse of what could have been.
Mr Akunin has the ability to produce such masterpieces as this and I can only hope he continues to do so for the final 4 books of the series. Bravo!
on 6 March 2014
This is an excellent read for all of us who love Erast Fandorin and his amazing adventures. In the first part we see the hero as a middle aged man attempting to foil a series of attacks on Russian railroads during the Russo-Japanese war in 1904-1905. His enemy is formidable and their battles, both physical and of wits, are a real joy to read. However there is more, much more, to this book than just that.
It flips back in time some twenty years or so and details a youthful Fandorin arriving in Japan and attempting to solve an intricate mystery. In so doing it explains something of the older Fandorin and his attributes. These were mentioned in the earlier volumes but how he came by them never revealed. This is interesting in itself, but Akunin’s exploration of elements of Japanese culture are fascinating in themselves. All the wonderful fundamentals of the series are there as is a beautiful depiction of the Russian’s falling in love.
The story itself is well paced with the intricate twists and turns that you expect from this series, and the characters are all well portrayed. The book keeps you guessing until the very end when a real twist to the story is revealed.
I have loved this series from the very first book and am a great admirer of the author. His style of writing (at least in translation) makes them easy to read and his variety of storylines and character development are fascinating. I cannot recommend this book too highly.
on 16 January 2012
This was my first encounter of Boris Akunin and what a pleasant surprise.
The cover didn't really grip me when I first saw it but now see it through different eyes.
The book is split mainly into thirds with the first third showing Fandorin in the modern day whilst the remaining two thirds visit the younger Fandorin.
Set in the late 1800's Russian born writer Akunin sets Fandorin off on a trial of adventure visiting settings, beautifully described, as far a field as opium dens and gambling houses. The characters throughout the book are well described and you seem to get to know them quite well.
A book with an immense amount of twists and turns that kept you going right up until the very end without being able to predict the outcome.
My only regret... that I hadn't read the earlier books in the saga and gotten to know the character a little better.
on 23 November 2012
`The Diamond Chariot' (2011) by Boris Akunin is a Russian historical detective novel. It is a novel in clearly two parts - the first set in 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War and the second in 1878 in Japan.
The first part concerns the long duel between the spy/terrorist, Vasilii Alexandrovich Rybnikov, and government agent, Erast Petrovich Fandorin. Both are highly intelligent, employing trickery and skill to subvent the other. Both are made attractive figures but there is a vital difference - Rybnikov is a cold-blinded killer and Farndorin hates to shed blood. The tale touches on terrorism, prostitution and revolutionary activity during the period before Bloody Sunday, the so-called `Dress-Rehearsal' for the 1917 Russian Revolution.
The second, and far longer, part is set in 1878 and deals with Fandorin's first experience of Japan. Here the chief interest lies in the detailed description of Japanese culture to early gaijin (foreign) visitors - e.g. concubines, ninja, johutsu. The crime story, centred on a plot to murder a politicIan, weaves lazily in and out of the rest. I found the affair between Fandorin and O-Yumi somewhat tiresome. On the whole, the Japanese characters prove far more interesting than their gangin counterparts - e.g. the intriguing Masa, the frustrated Asagawa and the effete Tsurumaki. There are several twists in the plot,, reaching to a climax involving ninja trickery.
I felt the book could have been shorter by cutting down the romance and (possibly) details about Japanese, language which impede getting through the CRIME STORY although interesting in themselves.
One clear feature of the book for me was the style, far grander than normal crime novels. It appeared to pack in more concepts to a sentence than usual, reminding me of the works of such authors as Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. Here is a particularly strong example:
`As he flew along the dark boulevards in the carriage, Fandorin thought about the terrible danger hanging over the ancient city - no, over he thousand-year-old state. Black crowds, armed with rifles from Japan (or wherever), would choke the throats of the streets with the nooses of barricades. A formless, bloody stain would creep in from the outskirts to the centre and a ferocious, protracted bloodbath would begin, in which here would be no victors, only dead and defeated,' (P. 105)
Here's another example of the beautifully antiquated prose sometimes used:
`The young man was rapidly seized by the excitement that seizes any individual of the male sex at the sight of an affray, even if it has nothing to do with him and he is an altogether peaceable individual. The breathing quickens, the blood flows twice as fast, the hands fold themselves into fists and, in defiance of reason, in defiance of the instinct of self-preservation, the desire rises to dash headlong in the free-for-all .....' (P.153)
As a minor footnote note the appearance of the word `akunin' in the book. The author redefines it as one who creates his own rules but really it means `villain'.
on 11 November 2011
A welcome return to form for Erast Fandorin, in a book that begins with him in later life, and returns us to the origins of the Eastern inscrutability that combines so well with the Western intelligence he possessed from the beginning. Fandorin, on the trail of Japanese spies during the Russo-Japanese war, finds himself confronted by a wily opponent who has all the tricks of the ninja combined with a presence of mind that makes him especially elusive. This turns into a digression into Fandorin's early career as diplomatic staff in a newly emerging Japan nearly thirty years before, introducing us to Masa, the man servant, the trail that leads to Fandorin's knowledge of Japanese culture, and to his benighted love life that produces a shadow over him ever after.
My only criticism is the over-valourising of Japanese culture (Akunin's scholarly background) that gets the better of the story in the middle, and might well have required closer editing to keep the impetus in the action. This is a trivial complaint, in an enjoyable tale, full of suspense as well as action, and a characteristic plot twist of the type that shows Akunin at his best. If you enjoy Akunin's characters, and also his insights into what made the 19th century world what it was, then this is a great read.
on 19 January 2013
I have read all the Fandorin tales and always look forward with great anticipation to each new release. This latest novel explains all of Mr F's back story. Now we understand his interest in all things Japanese and the explanation does not disappoint. We also learn how Masa came to share his adventures. It has been a thrilling journey so far and I hope this is not the last outing.
on 6 July 2012
It's a long book, but extremely satisfying. In the first part we see Fandorin at almost forty trying to prevent a series of attacks aimed at russian train lines in the russo-japanese war in the turn of the century. But the real joy is the story of the twenty-two-year old Fandorin arriving at Yokohama and trying to solve an intrincate conspiracy. It fills the gap we had when Fandorin comes back from Japan in the fourth book with Masa. We can see how they met and Akunin develops a wonderfully built plot while he introduces various themes of the jaoanese culture. All the great elements of the series are there, and also a beautiful depiction of Fandorin's passion. A must read. Waiting anxiously for the next translation.
on 15 January 2014
What an amazing book, full of light hearted humour and explanations of ancient Japanese magic. Almost impossible to put down, with a great love story too.
The ending is an eye opener!
The author deserves to be feted; such an imagination. And a brilliant translation which retains all the irony and humour.