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Summary and book reviews of Murder on the Leviathan by Boris Akunin

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
    Paperback:
    Feb 2005, 240 pages

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Book Summary

Tipping his hat to Agatha Christie, Boris Akunin’s latest page-turner transports the reader back to the glamorous, dangerous past in a richly atmospheric tale of suspense on the high seas.

Paris, 1878: Eccentric antiquarian Lord Littleby and his ten servants are found murdered in Littleby’s mansion on the rue de Grenelle, and a priceless Indian shawl is missing. Police commissioner "Papa" Gauche recovers only one piece of evidence from the crime scene: a golden key shaped like a whale. Gauche soon deduces that the key is in fact a ticket of passage for the Leviathan, a gigantic steamship soon to depart Southampton on its maiden voyage to Calcutta. The murderer must be among its passengers.

In Cairo, the ship is boarded by a young Russian diplomat with a shock of white hair—none other than Erast Fandorin, the celebrated detective of Boris Akunin’s The Winter Queen. The sleuth joins forces with Gauche to determine which of ten unticketed passengers on the Leviathan is the rue de Grenelle killer.

Tipping his hat to Agatha Christie, Akunin assembles a colorful cast of suspects—including a secretive Japanese doctor, a professor who specializes in rare Indian artifacts, a pregnant Swiss woman, and an English aristocrat with an appetite for collecting Asian treasures—all of whom are contained together until the crime is solved. As the Leviathan steams toward Calcutta, will Fandorin be able to out-investigate Gauche and discover who the killer is, even as the ship’s passengers are murdered, one by one?

Already an international sensation, Boris Akunin’s latest page-turner transports the reader back to the glamorous, dangerous past in a richly atmospheric tale of suspense on the high seas.

Part One
PORT SAID TO ADEN
Commissioner Gauche



At Port Said another passenger boarded the Leviathan, occupying stateroom number eighteen, the last first-class cabin still vacant, and Gustave Gauche’s mood immediately improved. The newcomer looked highly promising: that self-assured and unhurried way of carrying himself, that inscrutable expression on the handsome face. At first glance he seemed quite young, but when he removed his bowler hat, the hair on his temples was unexpectedly gray. A curious specimen, the commissioner decided. It was clear straight off that he had character and what they call "a past." All in all, definitely a client for papa Gauche.

The passenger walked up the gangway, swinging his shoulder bag, while the porters sweated as they struggled under the weight of his ample baggage: expensive suitcases that squeaked, high-quality pigskin traveling bags, huge bundles of books, and even a folding tricycle (one large wheel, two small ones, and an ...

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 ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Boston Globe

A tasty dish...There are secret panels, hidden tunnels, a false mustache, intercepted letters, gunfights, and a glamorous female villain....Akunin knows how to build suspense, but he also enjoys himself; he shows the reader a good time.

The Wall Street Journal

Akunin’s Erast Fandorin novels feature a Slavic Sherlock Holmes who speaks Japanese and English, is skilled at martial arts and has lady-killer good looks....Millions of readers have been seduced by the books’ elegant style and classy, retro feel.

The New York Times Book Review

Akunin’s prose is clean and swift, pausing only to set a scene with a few well-chosen details before resuming the hairpin curves of the action. If Pushkin had tried his hand at detective action, it might have turned out something like this.

Marilyn Stasio - The New York Times

Snappishly witty in Andrew Bromfield's crisp translation, Akunin's dry observations on the moral poverty of the upper classes are drolly set off by his lush descriptions of the material luxuries by which they measure the value of life itself.

Kirkus Reviews

The imperial/aristocratic milieu pays homage to Agatha Christie, the fiendlishly clever Chinese-box plotting to Ellery Queen. Akunin's most distinctive contribution is a tone of dryly amused irony that continues to the last sad line.

Publishers Weekly

Akunin writes like a hybrid of Caleb Carr, Agatha Christie and Elizabeth Peters in his second mystery to be published in the U.S.

Library Journal - Barbara Hoffert

This is another intelligent and deftly plotted work by Russian philologist/mystery writer Akunin, perhaps a bit more traditional in approach than The Winter Queen (as the publicity suggests, it's obviously an homage to Agatha Christie) but still full of surprises and incisive in its characterization and psychological depth. Essential for mystery collections.

Author Blurb Ruth Rendell
[Akunin is] the Russian Ian Fleming....[The Winter Queen] features abduction, villains, beautiful women and, of course, espionage....Akunin’s accomplished writing is a treat.

Author Blurb Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club
A warning to readers after finishing this novel you will need more novels featuring Erast Fandorin....Akunin succeeds in transporting us completely into nineteenth-century Russia, yet the novel is a definitively modern mystery.

Reader Reviews

Lemmy

To me, Russian writer Akunin is one of the best writers of all time and his Fandorin series are extremely exciting and refreshing to read.
If you want to know what people in Europe & Russia are reading nowadays-- get this book!! Millions of people ...   Read More

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