Excerpt from The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Winter Queen

A Novel

by Boris Akunin

The Winter Queen
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  • First Published:
    May 2003, 256 pages
    Mar 2004, 264 pages

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Xavier Grushin genuinely wished the boy well and felt a fatherly concern for him, for there was no denying life had dealt hard with the novice clerk, leaving him an orphan at the tender age of nineteen years. He had known no mother since he was a young child, and his hothead of a father had squandered his entire estate on worthless projects and then given up the ghost. First he'd built up a fortune during the railway boom, and then he'd ruined himself in the banking boom. As soon as the commercial banks began going under the previous year, plenty of respectable people had found themselves out in the cold. The most reliable interest-bearing bonds were suddenly reduced to worthless trash, to nothing, and the retired Lieutenant Fandorin, who promptly departed this life under the blow, had left his only son nothing but a bundle of promissory notes. The boy should have finished his studies at the gymnasium and gone on to the university, but instead it was out of the parental halls and off into the streets with you to earn a crust of bread. Xavier Grushin snorted in commiseration. The orphan had passed the examination for collegiate registrar all right (that was no problem for such a well-brought-up lad), but what on earth could have made him want to join the police? He should have a post in the Office of Statistics or perhaps in the Department of Justice. His head was full of romantic nonsense and dreams of catching mysterious Caududals. But we don't have any Caududals here, my dear chap. Xavier Grushin shook his head disapprovingly. We spend most of our time around here polishing the seats of our pants and writing reports about the petty bourgeois Potbelly dispatching his lawful spouse and three little ones with an ax in a drunken fit.

The youthful Mr. Fandorin was only serving his third week in the Criminal Investigation Division, but as an experienced sleuth and a real old hand, Xavier Grushin could tell for certain that the boy would never make a go of it. He was too soft, too delicately raised. Once, during the first week, Grushin had taken him along to the scene of a crime (when the merchant's wife Krupnova had her throat cut). Fandorin had taken one look at the dead woman, turned bright green, and gone creeping back all the way along the wall out into the yard. True enough, the merchant's wife had not been a very appetizing sight—with her throat ripped open from ear to ear, her tongue lolling out of her mouth, and her eyes bulging out of her head—and then, of course, there was that pool of blood she was swimming in. Anyway, Xavier Grushin had been obliged to conduct the preliminary investigation and write the report himself. In all honesty, the case had proved simple enough. The caretaker Kuzykin's eyes had been darting about so crazily in his head that Xavier Grushin had immediately ordered the constable to take him by the collar and stick him in the lockup. Kuzykin had been in there for two weeks now and he was still denying everything, but that was all right. He'd confess—there was no one else who could have slit the woman's throat. In the thirty years he'd been working here Grushin had developed the nose of a bloodhound. And Fandorin would come in handy for the paperwork. He was conscientious; he wrote good Russian and knew foreign languages; he was quick on the uptake and pleasant company, unlike that wretched drunk Trofimov who'd been demoted last month from clerk to junior assistant police officer over at the Khitrovka slums—let him do his drinking and talk back to his superiors down there.

Grushin drummed his fingers in annoyance on the dreary standard-issue baize covering of his desk, took his watch out of his waistcoat pocket—oh, there was still a fair old spell to lunch!—and decisively pulled across the latest Moscow Gazette.

"Well now, what surprises have they got for us today?" he asked aloud, and the young clerk eagerly set aside his hateful goose-quill pen, knowing that the boss would start reading out the headlines and other bits and pieces and commenting on what he read. It was a little habit that Xavier Feofilaktovich Grushin had.

Excerpted from The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin Copyright© 2003 by Boris Akunin. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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