Paris, 1878: Eccentric antiquarian Lord Littleby and his ten servants are found murdered in Littleby’s mansion on the rue de Grenelle, and a priceless Indian shawl is missing. Police commissioner “Papa” Gauche recovers only one piece of evidence from the crime scene: a golden key shaped like a whale. Gauche soon deduces that the key is in fact a ticket of passage for the Leviathan, a gigantic steamship soon to depart Southampton on its maiden voyage to Calcutta. The murderer must be among its passengers.
In Cairo, the ship is boarded by a young Russian diplomat with a shock of white hair—none other than Erast Fandorin, the celebrated detective of Boris Akunin’s The Winter Queen. The sleuth joins forces with Gauche to determine which of ten unticketed passengers on the Leviathan is the rue de Grenelle killer.
Tipping his hat to Agatha Christie, Akunin assembles a colorful cast of suspects—including a secretive Japanese doctor, a professor who specializes in rare Indian artifacts, a pregnant Swiss woman, and an English aristocrat with an appetite for collecting Asian treasures—all of whom are con?ned together until the crime is solved. As the Leviathan steams toward Calcutta, will Fandorin be able to out-investigate Gauche and discover who the killer is, even as the ship’s passengers are murdered, one by one?
Already an international sensation, Boris Akunin’s latest page-turner transports the reader back to the glamorous, dangerous past in a richly atmospheric tale of suspense on the high seas.
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. FYI:Boris Akunin is the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili, a native of Georgia who has written 10 Erast Fandorin mysteries to date.