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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Special Assignments. Boris Akunin (Writer). Anrdew Bromfield (Translator).Wiedenfield and Nicolson (2007)

These two stories about cases involving Court Counsellor Ersat Fandorin, special investigator for the Governor-General of Imperial Moscow, are hugely enjoyable. The first story, "The Jack of Spades" opens with a brilliant swindle carried out by the con man, The Jack of Spades, involving the Governor-General himself. Ersat Fandorin and his new assistant Anisii Tulipov set out to trap the Jack and find that he is a very slippery and enterprising opponent indeed. The story twists and turns very cleverly and comes to a very smart and satisfactory conclusion. The second story, "The Decorator" is about the pursuit of a vicious serial killer who may have connections with Jack the Ripper. This story escalates in a very suprising way and the conclusion is harsh and credible.
The settings for both of these stories, pre-revolutionary Moscow is superbly evoked. The extraordinary and pervasive bureaucracy of Imperial Russia is shown in action as the the cases are investigated. Ersat Fandorin is a nicely fallible character, he is subtle and shrewd, very observant and quick thinking, at the same time he is not infallible. The rest of the large cast are very well drawn, they live and breathe, in particular the two villains.
The Jack of Spades has the desire both to put one over his victims and to get the credit for his cleverness. The money is a very nice reward, it is proving his superiority that really drives him. The Decorator on the other hand is a genuine monster, his blood lust is constrained by his desire not to be caught, his mixture of depravity and cunning survival is horrifying. This mix does allow Boris Akunin to push the second story in a very dark direction without doing damage to the lighthearted tone he frequently uses. The translation has retained an essential non-English flavour while flowing smoothly and easily. Very engaging, well worth reading.

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