Murder on the Leviathan Paperback – 18 Mar 2010
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In Boris Akunin's Murder on the Leviathan the former St Petersburg investigator Erast Fandorin (hero of The Winter Queen) competes for centre stage with a swell-headed French police commissioner, a crafty adventuress boasting more than her fair share of aliases, and a luxurious steamship that appears fated for deliberate destruction in the Indian Ocean.
Following the 1878 murders of British aristocrat Lord Littleby and his servants on Paris's fashionable Rue de Grenelle, Gustave Gauche, "Investigator for Especially Important Crimes," boards the double-engined, six-masted Leviathan on its maiden voyage from England to India. He's on the lookout for first-class passengers missing their specially made gold whale badges--one of which Littleby had yanked from his attacker before he died. However, this trap fails: several travellers are badgeless, and still others make equally good candidates for Littleby's slayer, including a demented baronet, a dubious Japanese army officer, a pregnant and loquacious Swiss banker's wife, and a suave Russian diplomat headed for Japan. That last is of course Fandorin, still recovering two years later from the events related in The Winter Queen. Like a lesser Hercule Poirot, "papa" Gauche grills these suspects, all of whom harbour secrets, and occasionally lays blame for Paris's "crime of the century" before one or another of them--only to have the hyper-perceptive Fandorin deflate his arguments. It takes many leagues of ocean, several more deaths, and a superfluity of overlong recollections by the shipmates before a solution to this twisted case emerges from the facts of Littleby's killing and the concurrent theft of a valuable Indian artefact from his mansion.
Like the best Golden Age nautical mysteries, Murder on the Leviathan finds its drama in the escalating tensions between a small circle of too-tight-quartered passengers, and draws its humour from their over-mannered behaviour and individual eccentricities. The trouble is, Akunin (the pseudonym of Russian philologist Grigory Chkhartishvili) doesn't exceed expectations of what can be done within those traditions. --J. Kingston Pierce, Amazon.com
'It takes love and wit to revive the corpse of the country-house murder; Akunin has both...an amusing voyage.' -- GUARDIAN (6.11.04)
'Splendidly smart and funny, this is half pastiche, half reinvention, and wholly entertaining.' -- Catherine Shoard, EVENING STANDARD (8.11.04)
'a delectable mystery.' -- GOOD BOOK GUIDE (1.11.04)
'terrific and hugely diverting.' -- SUNDAY TIMES (24.10.04)
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Top Customer Reviews
For me, the book had only one bad point, this being the incredible stupidity of Gauche, which sometimes pulled me out of the story. Overall, however, Murder on the Leviathan comes highly recommended from me. And does Fandorin remind anyone else of Phileas Fogg?
This is the third Erast Fandorin novel - the second to be translated into English (Turkish Gambit, the real 2nd, is scheduled for publication in December). Here, we see less of Fandorin than we did in TWQ, or it certainly seems like it. This is partly because Leviathan is told from five different perspectives. One is that of French "Investigator of Especially Important Cases", Gustav Gauche (who definitely lives up to his name); the remaining four perspectives are those of four main suspects in a murder inquiry (two of these are told in the 3rd person, two in the 1st). Thus we see Fandorin through only their eyes, making him a decidedly enigmatic and intriguing detective.
The crime being investigated is the murder, in Paris, of Lord Littleby, collector of fine things, and nine members of his staff. (Yes, nine.) Due to a clue left at the crime scene (in the form of a badge shaped as a golden whale), Gauche deduces that the murderer will be one of the passengers on the steamship Leviathan - newly built and embarking upon its maiden voyage to Calcutta. He boards the ship and begins his enquiries, trying to sift out the murder from the 142 first-class passengers (yes, 142.Read more ›
The reader should note that this is actually the third book in the Erast Fandorin series but only the second published in English. Murder on the Leviathan does contain a couple of references to Fandorin's adventures in Turkey, that formed the basis of the second book, but those references do not have any impact on the reader's ability to enjoy this book standing on its own.
It is no insult to advise the reader that Murder on the Leviathan is a highly structured, formulaic mystery that is written within the clear guidelines established for genre-mysteries in the Agatha Christie tradition. The enjoyment to be gained from reading books of this sort is derived from the writer's ability to work within that structure in an entertaining and exciting way. Akunin accomplishes this task with ease and, in the process, also manages to add a few new wrinkles to the genre.
The story centers on a gruesome mass murder carried out in connection with the commission of a brazen robbery of a priceless Indian shawl in Paris in 1878. The investigation is led by a less than stellar Parisian detective, the aptly named Inspector Gauche. Like Christies' Murder on the Orient Express, the initial investigation leads Inspector Gauche to a restricted setting with a limited number of suspects. In this case the setting is the S.S. Leviathan, making its initial voyage from Southampton, England to Calcutta,India via the Suez Canal.
Inspector Gauche boards the ship in Southampton after determining that the murderer will be on the vessel.Read more ›
Every single quote from the literary press on the rear of the book uses the word pastiche...and they are absolutely right: from what was aspiring to be a more or less serious crime thriller in its own right in the first book, Akunin has turned the second Erast Fandorin book into pure ironic homage. Not only has the story's tone and the apparent ambition of the author changed, but the writing style has completely changed too - and not really for the better I'm afraid. The Winter Queen was written in the third person but very much focused on the central character, an enigmatic young Russian detective. The Leviathan is pure, unadulterated Murder on the Orient Express...but swops the locotmotive for the luxury liner on its maiden voyage.
All of the action takes place in a dining room amongst an ensemble cast of larger-than-life characters, all of whom have 'pasts' and all of whom, we are led to believe, possess the motive to have committed the crimes which open the story. The central crime itself is slightly more mundane and less fantastic than that in The Winter Queen...but not by much.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I found it difficult to put this down and look forward to reading the next one! A really enjoyable series.Published 16 months ago by s
This is a lightweight piece of fun, lacking the insight into forgotten wars which make the next in the series worth reading.Published on 16 May 2012 by patacake
The first thing that should be noted by any Akunin fan is that this book is not book two but book three. Read morePublished on 20 Jun. 2010 by presterjohn
It is 1878 and Police commissioner Gauche has a major murder case, possibly the murder of the century, on his hands. Read morePublished on 19 Jun. 2008 by Friederike Knabe
Inspector Gustave Gauche has a great dream. He wants a promotion to superintendent, and a second-class pension, which will be a vast improvement over his current third-class... Read morePublished on 18 Jun. 2008 by Stephen A. Haines
Akunin tells the story from a number of perspectives - including Commissioner Gauche, a mysterious Japanese man called Aono, an English spinster called Clarissa Stamp, an English... Read morePublished on 14 Jun. 2007 by I Read, Therefore I Blog