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03 February 2008 @ 11:06 am
Book Review: Murder on the Leviathan  
PhotobucketTranslated by Andrew Bromfield.
Audio book read by Campbell Scott

I wasn't aware that this was the third in a series when I picked it up but I had no problem following the story. We learn all we really need to know to follow as the story progresses without any infodumps to kill this story's momentum. According to Wiki each novel in the series emulates a particular mystery novel genre and Leviathan is Akunin's take on Agatha Christie and her imitators.

There has been a shocking murder in Paris with eleven victims, including two young children. It is "the crime of the century", the 19th century. The only things stolen are a golden idol and a silk shawl but the idol was thrown off the nearest bridge and what could be the value of a shawl? Even one that is exquisitely beautiful and once belonged to the richest man in India?

Based on a clue left at the scene the culprit is believed to be planning to be on board the ultra luxury liner Leviathan for it's maiden voyage. Inspector Gustave Gauche comes aboard and after reviewing the passenger list has all his suspects assigned to the same small dining room, the Windsor Suite, so he can observe them.

It's the characters that are the enjoyable part of this novel. The insane British aristocrat who can be found on deck at odd hours of the night, the pregnant woman traveling alone who is attacked on board, the Japanese army officer who has a puzzling lack of knowledge about artillery, the professor of Indian studies who is obsessed with the lost treasure of a prince, the ship's doctor and his wife, as well as the second in command, become a small closed community within the larger one of the ship and each could have a motive and opportunity to have committed the crime.

They are all brought to vivid life in the audio book version by Scott who does distinct voices and accents for all of them. If you go with the audio version double check the box because there is an abridged version and you want to be sure that you get the uncut version. For some reason Amazon only has the abridged edition.

We get chapters in first person from everyone and some of the clues lie in what they do, and do not, say when it's their turn to narrate.
The clues are fairly laid out and the reader has a fighting chance of solving the mystery but is kept guessing long enough that when the truth is revealed it's not anticlimactic.

As you might guess from the name of the investigator there is a lot of humor. The author pokes fun at both conventions of the time period and standard conventions of this sort of mystery without ever getting nasty about it. There are also references made to other popular fiction if you pay attention. Probably the most subtle in joke I got is when the Japanese man is described at one point as having a drop of sweat beading on his brow.

Bringing all the suspects together on a long trip with Gauche, brings to mind Poirot on the Orient Express although Gauche, to paraphrase Murder by Death, is a Frenchie, not a Belgie. But while he's no Clouseau he's no Poirot either. He is nearing retirement and desperately needs to solve this case in order to get a promotion that will insure that he receives a livable pension. Fandorin, ever polite, keeps poking holes in his theories at the worst possible moment.

This was a really good read and I'm looking forward to finding the first book in the series, Winter Queen, at some point and getting to know Fandorin even better.

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