Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Murder on the Leviathan, by Boris Akunin

Murder on the Leviathan
by Boris Akunin

Shall we ever learn the true story behind this nightmarish and unfathomable case?

Boris Akunin's Murder on the Leviathan is the 2001: A Space Odyssey of mystery. No, I'm not smoking anything. Bear with me. If you've never seen the Kubrick/Clarke masterpiece, then what you need to know, for purposes of this analogy, is that structurally it's set up with a fairly dynamic series of opening sequences, followed by a lengthy and somewhat slow-moving middle section (that tends to put off some viewers) and then the whole affair closes with a bang, so to speak.

Ditto for Akunin's book. It opens in Paris in the aftermath of a particularly grim crime. Nine members of the household staff (including two armed guards) of a wealthy Englishman have been found in the same room, dead from a morphine overdose, while upstairs the master of the house has had his brains bashed in. Among the items missing, an immensely valuable statue of the Hindu god, Shiva, which is found at the bottom of a river a few days later.

Cut to the Leviathan, an ocean liner of titanic proportions that's bound for Bombay. On board is a not so likable French police detective named Gauche, who's convinced that the murderer is aboard. He has the most likely suspects assigned to his salon on board the ship so that he can keep a closer eye on them and the story is told round robin style from the POV of these suspects. Most notable among the suspects, a Russian diplomat named Erast Fandorin, whose presence becomes increasingly critical as time goes on.

As with 2001, this middle section can seem a bit slow-moving, in spite of some fairly significant happenings. But Akunin winds things up in bang-up fashion, with an old-school type summing up with a few nifty twists thrown in for good measure.

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