Review: The Winter Queen, by Boris Akunin

I read this book, the first in the series of 13 novels about the late 19th century Russian detective Erast Fandorin, when it first appeared some twenty years ago. I remember little about the plot, but I remember vividly how I felt — and how shocked I was at the ending. I have now read it for a second time.

Boris Akunin is a brilliant story-teller and also an excellent historian. His books are set in a real historical time and place (imperial Russia from 1876 to the Bolshevik coup d’etat in 1917). He’s been compared to Arthur Conan Doyle and Ian Fleming, but I think Akunin (whose real name is Grigory Chkhartishvili and who was born in Georgia) is a unique voice. One should not rush to compare his Fandorin to James Bond or Sherlock Holmes.

In this first book in the series we meet a very young Fandorin at the beginning of his career in the police, naive, prone to make mistakes, an incurable romantic and someone with truly amazing luck. Initially investigating the very public suicide of a student, Fandorin stumbles upon a vast international conspiracy — and no, it’s not the one you’re thinking of. A real pleasure to read and highly recommended.