Reading guide for Murder on the Leviathan by Boris Akunin

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Murder on the Leviathan

An Erast Fandorin novel

by Boris Akunin

Murder on the Leviathan
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2004, 240 pages
    Feb 2005, 240 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. What criteria does Gustave Gauche use in assembling his list of suspects? Are his inferences about the golden whale badge sound? Also, discuss what is at stake for Gauche in solving this case. Did you ever sympathize with his ambitions?

  2. Evaluate the varying structure of the novel. Describe how its changing narrative viewpoints, and its digressions and seemingly trivial details (for instance, the news report on cholera), become important throughout the course of the investigation. Also, why do you think Akunin chooses to narrate the story from the perspectives of Gauche, Renate, Clarissa, Milford-Stokes and Aono, but not from that of Professor Sweetchild, the Truffos, or even Fandorin?

  3. Renate Kleber complains that her tablemates are “a choice collection ofÉblooms, bores and freaksÉ [and] one lunatic” (126). How does Boris Akunin cast suspicion on each of the characters assembled in the Windsor Salon? What secrets are they each individually trying to hide?

  4. Papa Gauche is proud of his title as “Inspector for Especially Important Cases” (54). Discuss the appropriateness of the detective’s name, and also how his ego and cultural prejudices thwart his progress. How does Gauche take a simplistic view of people and events?

  5. Reginald Milford-Stokes calls the Leviathan “a miracle of a ship” (35). Describe this colossal ship and evaluate the significance of its name. Consider what features of a cruise ship — such as confinement, exoticism, luxury and social stratification -- make it a particularly good setting for a mystery.

  6. Erast Fandorin cuts quite a dashing figure on board the Leviathan. Describe his appearance and the effect of his manners on the company assembled in the Windsor Salon. When and why does he stutter? What are his vulnerabilities, as confessed to Clarissa Stamp? And to what personal tragedy does he refer when he offers unwelcome comfort to Reginald Milford Stokes?

  7. Gauche claims that the Paris police conducts its work “in accordance with the latest scientific method” (29). What tools do the inspectors have at their disposal? What is the Bertillon method, and what forensic advancement does Fandorin suggest instead? Compare the early work of detectives to our modern practices; how have scientific advancements like forensics and DNA changed the nature of crime solving? On the flipside, how has detective work remained the same?

  8. Compare Fandorin’s logical method of detection with Gauche’s approach. Do you think it is unusual for a murder mystery to feature two detectives? What does this rivalry add to the plot?

  9. Gintaro Aono claims that the Rajah Bagdassar’s jewels are the “greatest hidden treasure there has ever been in the whole of human history.” (95). Describe the Brahminpur treasure and its unfortunate fate, the mystery of its location, and the importance of Lord Littleby’s pilfered shawl.

  10. Discuss the diagram drawn by Professor Sweetchild, which Reginald rescues from beneath the table in the grand salon. What did you initially make of the “palace” sketch, and what is the true meaning of the puzzle?

  11. Many of the Windsorites display cultural prejudices common in their time. How does this chauvinism increase suspicion amongst the passengers, and how does it lead to false accusations and bungled investigations? More generally, discuss the theme of national pride in the novel.

  12. Why does M. Aono try to commit suicide rather than defend himself against Gauche’s circumstantial charges? Why is honor so important to the samurai, and how do the Eastern and Western philosophies differ? What occasions Aono’s enlightenment, and how does he fulfill his “debt” to Erast Fandorin?

  13. Who is the real Rue de Grenelle killer, and what complicates the murderer’s unveiling? Was this the outcome you suspected, or did you peg another Windsorite as the murderer?

  14. Do you think the colorful shawl possesses some sort of mystical power? Describe its hold on Renate, Renier, Gauche, and the rest of the Windsorites. Did you agree with Fandorin’s decision to “accidentally” lose the shawl through the ship’s window, or would you have kept it? Why are the others ultimately content to see the shawl disappear? Finally, what is the significance of Erast Fandorin’s parable of the three Maghreb merchants (on page 118) in relation to the treasure?

    Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Random House. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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