Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Death of Achilles

By Boris Akunin
The dexterous detective appeared almost immediately and - shoot or wait? The 'huncback' was holding his revolver at the ready; his reactions were lightning fast, and he would start shooting at the slightest movement. Achimas squinted with the eye that had no membrane in it. Was that the familiar Herstahl? Could this be the same 'merchant' who had been in Knabe's apartment?
The fourth book in the series sees Erast Fandorin returning to Russia after a stay in Japan as a diplomat. The story begins as he gets off the train to find Moscow is not the city he left. Almost at once however a murder is committed, and the victim is none other than General Sobolov who played so dashing a part in 'The Turkish Gambit'. Fandorin is drawn into the mystery at once and soon sets about investigating. The first half of the story is excellent. Fandorin, accompanied by various allies (and his trusty Japanese man servant) calls upon his old mentor XavierFeofilaktovich to track down the culprits, and as in the previous novels, there are numerous twists and false hares to detract the readers attention.

The story breaks off as Fandorin nears the main bad guy however, and the book suddenly restarts, with the antagonist as the main character. The whole story repeats itself from the oppositie perspective until the second narrative reaches the end of the first and the book concludes with a show down.

I would like to love these novels, but I can't. Although Akunin has a good eye for deails and spins a good yarn along the way, his protagonist is simply too much of a paragon, and Fandorin's near total brilliance in all things becomes oppressive. That he is now become a ninja after a few years in Japan is symptomatic of the problem and if the blurb on the back of the books is anything to judge by, where the word 'pastiche' continues to surface, others have not missed this detail either. As good as the stories are, Fandorin, even for a pulp style antagonist, is just too good at everything, and this reduces the novel from good, to okay.

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