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Murder on the Leviathan: A Novel Paperback – February 8, 2005

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Murder on the Leviathan: A Novel + The Turkish Gambit (Erast Fandorin Mysteries) + The Death of Achilles: A Novel (Erast Fandorin Mystery)
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Editorial Reviews Review

Usually, crime writers who give birth to protagonists deserving of future series want to feature those characters as prominently as possible in subsequent installments. Not so Boris Akunin, who succeeds his celebrated first novel about daring 19th-century Russian sleuth Erast Fandorin, The Winter Queen, with the less inventive Murder on the Leviathan, in which the now former Moscow investigator competes for center 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 travelers 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 harbor 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 artifact 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 humor from their over-mannered behavior and individual eccentricities. 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Akunin writes like a hybrid of Caleb Carr, Agatha Christie and Elizabeth Peters in his second mystery to be published in the U.S., set on the maiden voyage of the British luxury ship Leviathan, en route to India in the spring of 1878. Akunin's young Russian detective/diplomat protagonist, Erast Fandorin, has matured considerably since his debut in last year's highly praised The Winter Queen, set in 1876, and proves a worthy foil to French police commissioner Gustave Gauche, who boards the Leviathan because a clue suggests that one of the passengers murdered a wealthy British aristocrat, seven servants and two children in his Paris home and stole priceless Indian treasures. The intuitive, methodical Fandorin, who joins the ship at Port Said, soon slyly takes over the investigation and comes up with an eclectic group of suspects, all with secrets to hide, whom Gauche assigns to the same dining room. The company recite humorous or instructive stories that slow down the action but eventually relate to the identification of the killer. Gauche offers at least four solutions to the crimes, but in each case Fandorin debates or debunks his reasoning. The atmospheric historical detail gives depth to the twisting plot, while the ruthless yet poignant arch villain makes up for a cast of mostly cardboard characters. Readers disappointed by the lack of background on Fandorin will find plenty in The Winter Queen.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812968794
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812968798
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #354,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Alexander Gitlits on April 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
First of all, while "Murder on Leviathan" is billed as a second novel in the Fandorin series, it is really the third. For some reason "The Turkish Gambit" was passed over in the American edition, may be, it will be published at a later date. Fear not, though. The novel is totally accessible on its own, you don't even need to know the events of "Winter Queen".
Each novel in the series is a take on another sub-genre of mystery story - there are spy stories, political stories, etc. Here Akunin enters the kingdom of Agatha Christie - if you have read a Poirot mystery, you know what to expect from "Leviathan". This novel could be a Poirot mystery - it is worthy of the Queen of the mystery herself. If it were, would it be her best? No. But it won't be worst, too.
The main thing I like about Akunin is that he is writing novels not only set in the past, but imitating the style of that era. Most of the authors today try to cram everything into a novel - mystery, thriller, family saga, etc. The Fandorin books have a kind of simpler, purer feel to them. And thus they are somehow more pleasant to read then the majority of page-turners.
Modern thrillers are often compared to a wild ride. Well, instead of that, try a comfortable journey on a luxury cruiser.
The "Leviathan" will be leaving port shortly! Refreshments and murder are served on board.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful By RachelWalker on May 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I'm afraid I might have done Boris Akunin a great disservice. I thought The Winter Queen was a decidedly average read; I didn't find the plot too gripping, and I disliked the style. Now, there's nothing I can do about the plot: I've simply never been fond of "adventure" stories, so I'm not particularly going to like a pastiche of one, either - as The Winter Queen was. However, I must have been in some bizarre mood, because I found the style of Leviathan to be an absolute delight!
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.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig VINE VOICE on June 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Boris Akunin's Murder on the Leviathan is the second English language publication of a series of novels involving Russian sleuth Erast Fandorin. Leviathan is different in tone and structure from Akunin's first Fandorin mystery, The Winter Queen, but makes for a worthy successor.
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.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on May 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
It is impossible to read Boris Akunin's Murder on the Leviathan (ably translated by Andrew Bromfield) without automatically thinking of Agatha Christie. All of her various character types are here, with a clever riff/spoof of both Hercule Poirot and the French detectives he would on occasion encounter. It is a compact book with a great number of red herrings thrown about, the perfect summer read for those who have already worked their way through the Christe oeuvre a couple times over and have tired of more contemporary psychological thrillers. This mystery may be way over the top at times but, like a good Agatha Christie, it is always a pleasure.
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