Solving the Crime of the Century in Boris Akunin’s Murder on the Leviathan
The scene is set in 1878 in Paris, and Papa Gauche of the Paris police force is sent on the maiden voyage of the Leviathan, a luxury cruise liner on its way to India. Gauche is tasked to investigate the murder of one Lord Littleby, who was found battered to death in his home in Paris along with nine employees who all died of lethal injections. Clues suggest that the murderer is about to sail away into the sunset on the Leviathan. In what becomes a classic “closed room” murder mystery, the murderer can only be one of the passengers on the ship as travelers onboard are murdered one after the next. It is narrowed down to ten suspects who are all made to eat together until the crime is solved.
A Colorful Cast of Potential Murderers
In Murder on the Leviathan, the third of the Erast Fandorin series, Fandorin himself comes under scrutiny as a suspect, instead of being the investigator he was in earlier books. This gives the novel an interesting turn and makes it an even more enjoyable read. Some of the other suspects include a paranoid English baronet, an eccentric Japanese nobleman who walks around without his pants on, a wealthy but dishonest English woman, and a young lady who is obsessed with her own pregnancy and has a downright odd habit she undertakes in her cabin (thank goodness!). Of course, Fandorin soon takes the center stage. His character is unique in detective literature. Unlike the classic detectives conjured up by Conan Doyle, Georges Simenon and Agatha Christie – middle-aged, wise and experienced detectives surrounded by an air of mystery – we know as much about Fandorin as we would about our closest of friends. We know every significant detail of his personal biography; we are familiar with his worldview and we are invested in his success, both personally and professionally. Furthermore, unlike his predecessors, Fandorin is a young man and an inexperienced detective, with only two successful investigations behind him.
An Unusual Way to Create an Atmosphere
The story is told from individual passengers’ point of view. The baronet writes letters to his wife and the odd Japanese man makes entries into his journal. To see these entries, the reader has to turn the book on its side. There are also images of newspaper clippings of the murder in the book. Although it could be mildly annoying to have compulsive reading interrupted with journal entries and articles, it actually creates an “investigative” atmosphere, particularly when you begin to read how Fandorin debunks every single one of the opinionated Gauche’s theories about the identity of the killer in typical Sherlock Holmes style.
The setting and the story are both quite absurd, but this does not diminish the excellence of yet another great Boris Akunin novel. As always, Akunin knows exactly what he’s doing. His writing is so enjoyable, intelligent, amusing, and sharp that it turns the reader into an ally instead of a critic.
There is not a single dull page in this book; some of them may even have the reader laughing out loud. As always, Akunin keeps his audience guessing until the very last few pages and then knocks it out of the park by making it clear that the evidence was there all along, just outside their grasp. The conclusion is super clever and entirely satisfying.