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
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. Agent, Linda Michaels at Ltd International. (May 4) FYI: Boris Akunin is the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili, a native of Georgia who has written 10 Erast Fandorin mysteries to date. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2003
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Excerpt from Murder on the Leviathan by Boris Akunin
PORT SAID TO ADEN
At Port Said another passenger boarded the Leviathan, occupying stateroom number eighteen, the last first-class cabin still vacant, and Gustave Gaucheýs mood immediately improved. The newcomer looked highly promising: that self-assured and unhurried way of carrying himself, that inscrutable expression on the handsome face. At first glance he seemed quite young, but when he removed his bowler hat, the hair on his temples was unexpectedly gray. A curious specimen, the commissioner decided. It was clear straight off that he had character and what they call ýa past.ý All in all, definitely a client for papa Gauche.
The passenger walked up the gangway, swinging his shoulder bag, while the porters sweated as they struggled under the weight of his ample baggage: expensive suitcases that squeaked, high-quality pigskin traveling bags, huge bundles of books, and even a folding tricycle (one large wheel, two small ones, and an array of gleaming metal tubes). Bringing up the rear came two poor devils lugging an imposing set of gymnastic weights.
Gaucheýs heart, the heart of an old sleuth (as the commissioner himself was fond of testifying), had thrilled to the lure of the hunt when the newcomer proved to have no golden badgeýneither on the silk lapel of his dandified summer coat, nor on his jacket, nor on his watch chain. Warmer now, very warm, thought Gauche, vigilantly scrutinizing the fop from beneath his bushy brows and puffing on his favorite clay pipe. But of course, why had he, old fool that he was, assumed the murderer would board the steamship at Southampton? The crime was committed on the fifteenth of March, and today was already the first of April. It would have been perfectly easy to reach Port Said while the Leviathan was rounding the western rim of Europe. And there you had it, everything fitted: the right kind of character for a client, plus a first-class ticket, plus the most important thing no golden whale.
For some time Gaucheýs dreams had been haunted by that accursed badge with the abbreviated title of the Jasper-Artaud Partnership steamship company, and without exception his dreams had been uncommonly bad. Take the latest, for instance.
The commissioner was out boating with Mme. Gauche in the Bois de Boulogne. The sun was shining high in the sky and the birds were twittering in the trees. Suddenly a gigantic golden face with inanely goggling eyes loomed up over the treetops, opened cavernous jaws that could have accommodated the Arc de Triomphe with ease, and began sucking in the pond. Gauche broke into a sweat and laid on the oars. Meanwhile it transpired that events were not taking place in the park at all, but in the middle of a boundless ocean. The oars buckled like straws, Mme. Gauche was jabbing him painfully in the back with her umbrella, and an immense gleaming carcass blotted out the entire horizon. When it spouted a fountain that eclipsed half the sky, the commissioner woke up and began fumbling around on his bedside table with trembling fingers where were his pipe and those matches?