Boris Akunin is fiendishly clever as are his stories, and this idiosyncratic page-turner is no different. It’s peppered with humor and packed with action scenes, not to mention twists, turns, and a healthy dose of satire.
An Outrageous Criminal Mastermind
The brilliant Detective Fandorin finds himself back in Moscow as Czar Nicholas II is about to take the throne in a lavish coronation ceremony. This time, the detective is in the right place at the right time to stop a bunch of thugs from kidnapping the Grand Duke’s daughter, Xenia. However, amidst the chaos of the attempted kidnapping, they realize that even though the detective and his sidekick saved Xenia, the kidnappers snatched her little brother, Mikhail.
Then, a criminal with the strange pseudonym of Doctor Lind sends an outrageously demanding ransom letter. The letter demands the Orlov diamond, a massive gemstone set in a scepter, as payment for the safe return of the young child. The scepter is to be used in the coronation ceremony, and it would appear that Mikhail is in immediate danger.
Saving Mikhail and the Scepter
Detective Fandorin races against the clock to safely retrieve Mikhail while also avoiding giving up the royal scepter. The slightly stuttering detective soon foils the sly criminal and saves the day, but not before he plays a series of super crafty cat-and-mouse games offering the criminal a range of other ransoms as he hopes to gather more information about the kidnapper’s nefarious operations.
Fandorin recruits the staff to help him, but Lind has more accomplices and fewer morals—he is quite happy to kill anyone who dares stand in his way, including Mikhail. The good detective works with his loyal helpers, including the family butler, Afanasii Stepanovich Ziukin, who is the narrator of the book and turns out not to be as loyal as he appears.
Incidentally, Ziukin lets the reader into a range of details about the Czarist era, a period Akunin is clearly fond of. He also adds a colorful narrative about other happenings in the palace, including about a ghost. The ghost apparently has a penchant for fondling common ladies but wouldn’t lay a hand on anyone from the royal family.
History, Characters, and Remarkable Complexity
All the characters are smart and resourceful, making the interactions fun and entertaining.
The character development in this novel is excellent, down to the mental gymnastics done by Ziukin and the butler contemplating how to fit all the royal guests into only 18 rooms.
Nobody, except maybe Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, does murder/mysteries quite as well as Boris Akunin. He has a brilliant knack for taking a classic detective tale and filling it up with deep emotional complexity while keeping it a fun read. As always, this audacious author will keep you guessing – even when you’re sure you know what’s coming next. (You don’t!)