If you’ve read more than a handful of entries here you know that I recommend the Erast Fandorin mysteries frequently. The first in the series, The Winter Queen, came to America in 2003. The Fandorin novels were fabulously popular in Russia and public intrigue swirled about the true identity of the author (Boris Akunin is a pen name). In Russia, literature was meant to be serious and profound. A series of detective adventures was unheard of.
Unfortunately for ravenous readers of the books, like me, the publisher stopped releasing the novels in the US after three or four of them. (In fact, while I was honeymooning in the UK, I bought two Fandorin novels since I couldn’t get them here). Luckily with the advent of sites like Book Depository, most of the titles are available.
Fandorin is a character both completely familiar and refreshingly new. He shows shades of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, James Bond, and Jack Ryan. Yet he is something altogether unknown to a Western audience. He is a Tsarist civil servant navigating the unending and nonsensical bureaucracy of 1880s Russia, while solving all manner of crimes and catching anarchists.
Each of the Fandorin novels takes a slightly different tone, on purpose, as Akunin pays homage to the Doyle, Christie, and Fleming (Murder on the Leviathan is a take on Death on the Nile). The State Counsellor chapters alternate between spies of the dualling networks. The reader sees the push and pull and tangle from both sides.
It’s a taut spy novel that reminded me most of Agatha Christie’s They Came to Baghdad, one of her standalone books. In fact, the main spy’s code name is “Green” — the main character in Baghdad is Anna Scheele — Scheele’s Green. A stretch? Probably but then what’s a literature degree for?
Erast Fandorin spent the rest of that sleepless, agitated and confused night at Nikolaevsky Station, trying to piece together a picture of what had happened and pick up the perpetrators’ trail. Although there were numerous witnesses, both blue-coated gendarmes and private individuals, they failed to make things any clearer. They all talked about some officer who had supposedly thrown the bomb, but it turned out no one had actually seen him. ~Pg. 184
The State Counsellor fits well within the constellation of Fandorin novels but it is not one for first-time readers to begin with. It relies on a working understanding of Fandorin’s world to be completely successful. Additionally, Akunin uses traditional Russian appellations — first name, patronymic, last name and nickname. The characters might be called any combination of those names depending on the speaker. A complicated thriller is not the place to start trying to remember all these names.
It’s a great installment. I recommend it, just not until you’ve read a couple Fandorin novels first.
I’m thrilled Grove Atlantic has decided to pick up The State Counsellor, and I hope they bring more of the Russian detective to American readers.
I was given access to an e-book file on NetGalley, however I read my personal paperback copy to write this review.
By Boris Akunin
Translated by Andrew Bromfield
Series: Fandorin Mystery
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Mysterious Press (July 4, 2017)
Product Dimensions: 6 x 9 inches