In our time of the unbroken news cycle and relentless social media, it is hard to resist the attraction of an escape into fin de siecle Russia, particularly when it means following the escapades of State Counsellor Erast Fandorin.
Just a handful of Akunin’s dozen detective novels featuring Fandorin have made it into English (six have been made into movies in Russia), and this one is a very satisfying retreat. All the more so because Akunin is gifted at creating compelling characters, from the unconventional but proper Fandorin, to the Gogolian public servants trying to preserve their hides, to the synesthetic antagonist, Mr. Green, a “cold as steel” terrorist. Indeed, Akunin excels in this novel because he has you rooting both for Fandorin and Green, that each will vanquish the second-raters surrounding them so that the two face can off in an inevitable climax.
But, alas, the novel (published in Russia in 1999) does not provide pure escapism. For at its heart is a battle all too familiar. As voiced by Prince Pozharsky:
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