I like writing about books and movies, so I thought I could make a habit of writing about them as a Friday Night Extra. Sometimes it’s fun to write about something completely unrelated to sewing, especially if that something is a series of delicious detective novels.
Boris Akunin is the pen name of a contemporary Russian author who is wildly popular in his native land. One day in October 2000, he quit his job to write fiction. Just like that. He writes detective stories- right now I’m working my way through the exploits of Erast Petrovich Fandorin, who answers to many names. The last Fandorin book I read was The Diamond Chariot, and it set me on my ear. I determined to read the rest of the English translations as soon as possible.
She Lover of Death is the 8th book in the Fandorin series. The books were not published in chronological order, so I don’t mind jumping around. Besides, this was the only Akunin my library had when I checked!
She Lover of Death follows a suicide club in turn-of-the-century Moscow, first through newspaper clippings and notes passed between investigators, and later through the eyes of Columbina. She recently moved from the provinces to live a decadent, nihilistic bohemian life- naturally she falls in with the Lovers of Death. The Lovers view life as a punishment, and death as the release. They court death, they write poetry to death and search for signs that death has chosen them. The author explores the reasons and the reasoning behind the suicide club without casting its members as simple crazies- he searches for the reason and the reasoning and I found it quite interesting.
Fandorin doesn’t appear until nearly halfway through the book- he calls himself Genji as he infiltrates the club to unravel it. He’s changeable, distant, distracted but still sharp. The scenes between Gneji and Prospero (the leader of the club) move fast and clear, with all the insight into humanity that hooked me in The Diamond Chariot. Their dueling wits and nerves held me fast to my chair, greedily devouring pages right up to the very end.
The 9th book, He Lover of Death
, is another story about a kind of cult of Death in Moscow that takes place at the same time as She Lover of Death. I snapped it up immediately.
In this book, Death is the monicker of an extremely beautiful young woman who was unlucky in love early in her life. Her fiances tend to die horrible deaths, which earns her nickname- Death.
The story also involves a young boy named Senka. He lives in the throbbing, stinking, Moscow underworld and Death is their queen. She’s the moll of a bloodthirsty criminal- the Prince. Senka is obsessed with Death and manages to land a place on the Prince’s crew, or “deck,” in order to be closer to her.
A series of horrible murders sweeps through the slum- victims with their eyes put out. Fandorin (who is also playing Genji at the same time in a whole other book) investigates these crimes and takes Senka under his protection and tutelage after he flees from the scene of a bloody murder the Prince carried out. The author builds a web, a perfect storm centering around Death. She stays at home and embroiders incredible designs- I’m tempted to make a few myself from the descriptions.
It’s a treasure hunt, a spine-chilling crime mystery, bildungsroman and Oliver Twist crammed into a blender with a dash of vodka.
This one kept me reading, too. In fact, both books together took me less than half as long to read as The Diamond Chariot. They’re shorter, and to me they read more like pulp fiction than literature. Apparently, Akunin writes every book in a different style as a tribute to mystery writers who went before him. I love that. Besides, I enjoyed the way the two books quietly overlap one another. In He Lover of Death, I caught fleeting glimpses of the events in She Lover of Death and I’m sure if I re-read the 8th book I’d find hints of the 9th.
I wouldn’t call them great literature, but these two Fandorins kept me transfixed and I can’t wait to read the next one. I still have seven more!
Have you read either of these?
Tomorrow: The “Nine Lines” Hack (I can’t wait to show you the sweater I made, it’s so cozy and pretty and I don’t want to take it off ever.)