Winter Queen - Boris Akunin
A young man who just inherited the giant fortune of his father goes to a busy street in Moscow on a warm day in May, puts a gun against his head, and shoots a bullet through his head in front of dozens of witnesses. A clear-cut case of suicide on first sight, but the young and ambitious Erast Fandorin, since three weeks the aid of detective Xavier Grushin, finds evidence that this may not be just a simple suicide. When he investigates further undercover he soon becomes the first-hand witness of a murder and an attempted murder - on himself. Since this is not the first suicide among Moscow's rich youth, and since the murdered young man was also part of the wealthier class, a more experienced investigator, Ivan Brilling, is brought in, together with his team of experts.
This Brilling is not unimpressed with the young Fandorin, and he encourages him to pursue his theory. This theory does require quite some travelling, so we find Erast Fandorin back in London where he discovers that the deaths all seem to fit in some larger plan, something that comprises people with establised positions from around the globe. But as if one murder-attempt wasn't enough death seems to be lurking around every corner, and both allies and enemies come from unexpected places.
So Erast Fandorin has to travel back to Russia with unanswered questions and unasked answers, only partly wiser than he was before his trip, but a lot more suspicious. And less naieve, so he starts searching where he wanted to start in the first place, at the residence of a nice elderly Lady...
It's a delight to find a book that relies on what really matters: a good story. And it's also a delight to find a book that has a strong and delightful character, one that even evolves -from the naieve inexperienced beginning investigator to the still a bit naieve experienced skilled investigator- which one sees as credible, despite the unfamiliar era the story is set in (1876), and despite the fact that the plot is rather imaginative. But who cares about that, this book certainly doesn't pretend to be a historic novel, or even bring a credible crime that needs to be solved, the sometimes mocking tone indicates from the start that the plot -more of a pastiche really- is just an excuse for telling us about Erast Fandorin's adventures.
Winter Queen brings the entertainment of a good whodunnit, combined with quite some literary qualities, and lavished with a wonderful humour. The pace is excellent, and since every answer brings a new question, every problem a new solution, and every situation a new problem, you'll have a hard time putting this book down before it's finished.
© Jim Bella 2002-2006