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The Turkish Gambit (Erast Fandorin Mysteries) Paperback – April 18, 2006

51 customer reviews
Book 2 of 12 in the Erast Fandorin Series

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Editorial Reviews Review

Russian author Boris Akunin clearly delights in literary experimentation. The Winter Queen, his first novel to win U.S. release, was a police procedural, introducing a young but brilliant detective named Erast Petrovich Fandorin, serving in 1876 Moscow. However, Murder on the Leviathan (actually the third entry in the Fandorin series, but published second in the States) was quite different--an homage to formulaic Golden Age whodunits, taking place on a luxurious steamship. Now comes The Turkish Gambit, which is more a combination of war novel and romance, rather than crime fiction, with the majority of its mysteries so transparent as to barely merit the label.

The action here takes place in 1877 and 1878, on the Balkan front of a military conflict pitting tsarist Russia against the Ottoman Empire. Into this realm of posturing commanders and the foreign journalists whose florid prose makes those officers look better (or worse) than they really are ride Fandorin, now with the diplomatic corps, and Varya Suvorova, a strong-willed 22-year-old telegraphist hoping to reunite on the battlefield with her "future fiancé," an army volunteer. But Varya's efforts are frustrated when her intended is accused of espionage. His release can only be won by identifying the real informant-cum-saboteur, in which task Varya is willing to cooperate with Fandorin, despite her dislike of the stuttering and apparently "cold, disagreeable" former policeman. Amid profuse digressions concerning Turkish politics, female suffrage, and the harem system ("without it many women would quite simply starve to death"), Varya--trailed by lustful correspondents--investigates a suspicious colonel in Bucharest, only to become party to a deadly duel. A pair of officers are subsequently murdered, a guilt-ridden soldier hangs himself, and a British plot against Russia is alleged.

Akunin (the pseudonym of Grigory Chkhartishvili) nimbly portrays the tumultuous atmosphere of 19th-century combat, complete with ear-splitting cannon blasts and hard-charging cossacks. His dialogue is frequently clever, and in Varya he has created a woman fully capable of steering yarns and stopping hearts. Yet The Turkish Gambit is so laden with expendable exchanges, trivial players, and hieings off to hither and yon, that the reader's interest may wane well short of this story's dramatic climax. --J. Kingston Pierce --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

If chatty digressions on love and war tend to slow the third Erast Fandorin historical to appear in the U.S. (after 2004's Murder on the Leviathan), Russian author Akunin does a superb job of rendering the immediacy of battle in the 1877–1878 conflict between the Motherland and Turkey, and illuminating the politics behind czarist fantasies of recapturing Constantinople. At the Balkan front, the quiet, stuttering Fandorin befriends Varya Suvorova, a midwife turned telegraphist. Varya is bent on visiting her court-martialed fiancé, who's accused of being a spy. Fandorin and Varya are soon caught up in the fortunes of the Russian army, which a well-placed mole seems intent on betraying. Suspicions point to various Russian staff officers and to some glamorous foreign correspondents, including Seamus McLaughlin from London's Daily Post and Michel Paladin from the Revue Parisienne. Codes, courtesans and love letters all come into play, as well as murder and suicide in combat, in a plot more complex than some West Point battle plans. While the plethora of minor characters can be confusing, the quirky Fandorin and determined Varya stand out amid the turmoil of their surroundings.
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.

Product Details

  • Series: Erast Fandorin Mysteries
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 18, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812968786
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812968781
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #469,673 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Lonya VINE VOICE on March 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Boris Akunin's Erast Fandorin series has been spectacularly successful in Russia. Akunin's books have sold millions of copies there. Akunin, whose real name is Grigori Chkhartisvili, was born in (Soviet) Georgia. He grew up in Kazakhstan and then Moscow. Highly educated, Akunin was a student of linguistics, editor of a scholarly literary journal and a Japanese-Russian translator. He turned to writing these stories at age 40 during his self-described mid-life crisis. He saw a niche between the serious tomes that marked Russian literature (Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, etc.) and the mass market pulp fiction that dominated the low end of the post-Communist literary market. His book sales both in Russia and in Europe and the United States have proved him correct.

Turkish Gambit takes place in 1877. Russia is at war with Turkey after Russia and Serbia came to the aid of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bulgaria in their struggle to free themselves from rule by the Ottoman Empire. The war had important implications for all of Europe. The war was concluded at the Congress of Berlin, a congress that pretty much stripped the Russians of the gains they had made in the war. The Congress of Berlin humiliated the Russians and paved the way for future unrest in the Balkans that eventually led to the First World War. Newspaper reporters and others (including assorted spies) flocked to the battlefront from all over Europe. This is the historical context in which we find Fandorin and the Turkish Gambit's cast of characters.

The story centers on a young lady, Vavara Surovova. Like many children of the Russian aristocracy she considered herself progressive, smoked, enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh, and had a great disdain for Tsarist rule.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Marco Antonio Abarca VINE VOICE on June 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I purchased the Turkish Gambit because the novel takes place during the interesting but relatively unknown Russo Turkish War of 1877. The novel's backdrop is the memorable seige of Plevna, a bloody precursor to the trench warfare that Europe would experience during the Great War.

The hero of the novel is Erast Fandorin an agent of the Russian Secret Police charged with shutting down the network of a master Turkish spy. The novel's greatest strength is the rich atmosphere in which Boris Akunin places his story. With its haughty noblemen,dashing hussars and cosmospolitan foreign correspondents, I was reminded of Agatha Christie's Orient Express.

In my mind, The Turkish Gambit falls into the realm of the Victorian Adventure story. Like Harry Flashman or Sydney Riley, Erast Fandorin travels the Victorian world going from one adventure to the next. However, unlike Harry Flashman or a young Winston Churchill, Fandorin is never in the middle of the action. In this novel, he spends most of his time in camp searching for the Turkish spy. In temperment he is closer to Sherlock Holmes than Richard Burton. It may sound callow but I would have given this novel five stars, if Fandorin had been a more physical character. However, this is the first book in the series that I have read and I am impressed enough to purchase a second book.

For anyone else interested in the Russo Turkish War, I highly recommend Captain R.W. Von Herbert's, "The Defense of Plevna", a first hand account of the seige by an Englishman who served as a Turkish officer. It is out of print but can easily be found. This is a well written account in the same vein as Winston Churchill's early books.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Turkish Gambit is the 3rd novel in the Erast Fandorin series published in English (after 'The Winter Queen' and 'Leviathan'), but actually it's the second in the series.

The book takes place during the Russian-Turkish war in the Balkans and follows the real events, mixing fact and fiction seamlessly.

There are several things which, I think, contributed to it being published after 'Leviathan'. First - the hero of the series, Fandorin, is not as much of a central figure here, as he is in previouse books. Second - this is more of a war story, then a detective story. There is a search for a spy in the Russian camp, but mostly is about men (and a woman) at war. As a result, the book does qualify as a mystery, but just barely. As was said before (by me, and other reviewers), each Fandorin novel is different in style, and explores another sub-genre of mystery literature. It helps the series remain fresh, but it also can put off some readers, who prefer their mysteries to be more standard in structure:

mysteriouse and/or horrible murder - detective takes the case - a pretty girl, related to the victim - some missing files/jewelery/artifact - a chase - some sex - a fight - girl is kidnapped - the villain revealed/girl saved (not saved if she is the villain) - the end.

Sadly, while this book is not formulatic, the marriage of detective fiction and war fiction here is not as exciting and easy-going as the other Fandorin tales. Still, even when this novel drags a bit, it isn't lacking in style.

The war of Russian Empire with the muslim Turkey gives Akunin a chance to speak some thoughts of the West-East conflict in general.
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