How to create a quirky but brilliant sleuth extraordinaire: a recipe
• take about half of Prince Myshkin (Dostoyevsky's gentle, unassuming, naive and e...moreHow to create a quirky but brilliant sleuth extraordinaire: a recipe
• take about half of Prince Myshkin (Dostoyevsky's gentle, unassuming, naive and ever so slightly nutty all round good man)
• add a large dose of Pechorin (Lermontov's Byronic tortured hero)
• mix in a pinch of each of Colonel Nai-Turs (the honourable colonel from Bulgakov's White Guard who sacrifices himself to save his soldiers), Agent Cooper (of the Twin Peaks fame) and Andrei Bolkonsky (another prince, Tolstoy's this time, disillusioned but devilishly handsome, ambitious and proud)
• sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste
Et voila, you have one Erast Petrovich Fandorin, a corset wearing death defying favourite of gambling fortune, car enthusiast and lover of beautiful women.
Akunin writes literary pastiche and plays with various styles and genres. The idea behind this series was to write detective mysteries in as many different styles as possible. Winter Queen itself is a conspiracy mystery, which may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if it's not, there is plenty to choose from in the series overall and the stories are sufficiently independent to be read without reference to the rest of the series.
The above recipe is based on what Akunin states to be Fandorin's prototypes. Many of his characters seem immediately familiar, like meeting an old friend, and that is because they mostly are. It is great fun to try to spot the literary allusions buried in Akunin's work. For instance, the Winter Queen starts with a suicide in 1876, the year in which Anna Karenina ends her life and the first names Erast and Elizaveta (Liza) allude to Karamzin's Poor Liza.
Akunin's books are not Great Literature, they are not controversial or life-changing or revelatory, they do not explore the meaning of "life, the universe and everything", but what they are is immensely enjoyable. Akunin has fun with his characters and storylines and you cannot help but have fun right along with him.
P.S. I read the books in original and am not sure how much gets lost in translation. I suspect not a small amount, as I do think some of the nuances and humour would be impossible to understand unless one has some familiarity with Russian culture. (less)