Review: She Lover of Death, Boris Akunin (Andrew Bromfield, trans.)

A huge thank you to my sister Jessica! She introduced me to John Rebus and Guido Brunetti (both detectives and mysteries I adore!), and now she’s introduced me to turn-of-the-century Russian detective Erast Fandorin. Thin and debonair with piercing blue eyes and (quite honestly, the coup de grace) a slight stammer, Fandorin is my latest discovery in the world of gentlemen detectives I love.

She Lover of Death is the eighth book in Boris Akunin’s Erast Fandorin series. There are intriguing hints of Fandorin’s back story (a past romantic tragedy, incredible luck), but since the story is told from the perspective of a young woman who has only met him in this mystery (and in fact only knows him under an alias), I learned just enough to make me want to read the previous mysteries and find out more. Again, since the narrator doesn’t really know Fandorin, I don’t even know if he’s a private detective (he appears to have some problems with the police, so he can’t be a cop), or a Lord Peter Wimsey type character, who solves mysteries as a hobby. All I know of him is that he’s a brilliant detective, a gentleman with a protective streak who gets flustered when he interviews an artist and is faced with a nude female model, and a bit of an adventurer (near the end of the novel, he mentions going off to break a record). A charming man similar to Brunetti and Lynley, but with an air of mystery that makes him even more intriguing.

The mystery in She Lover is fascinating. In Moscow, 1900, a young woman joins the Lovers of Death, a suicide club composed of bohemians. The head of the club is a charismatic man with a romanticized view of Death. Members read poetry at club meetings, and whoever is chosen for suicide has to compose a final poem first. The mystery appeared straightforward at first — we know all about the club fairly early on — and it seemed a well-written, creepy mystery, with the main problem being how to stop the suicide club. However, Akunin introduces plot twists that hint at an actual murderer, and figuring out the identity and motives of this killer is an exciting, convoluted puzzle, and a classic detective story.

I love this book, and am looking forward to checking out the others in the series. Fandorin is a likable character, and I love learning about him from a complete stranger’s perspective. I’m used to reading detective stories from the perspective of the detective or a sidekick figure, so Akunin’s style in this book is an interesting change. The ending is one of those so-obvious-can’t-believe-I-was-fooled type revelations that I love in mysteries. The language is a bit formal, which adds to the atmosphere of the turn of the century Russia setting. The romanticization of Death and naivete of the narrator could so easily have been overdone, but Akunin handles it well. I’m so glad my sister introduced me to this series, and I’m excited to read more about Fandorin.

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