Murder on the Leviathan
Boris Akunin
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Murder on the Leviathan
Boris Akunin
Random House
240 pages
February 2005
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars
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It’s the year 1878, and the gruesome wholesale murders of famous English collector Lord Littleby and nine other members of his household staff rock Paris. The bizarre condition of the various bodies together with the mystifying cause of death and lack of suspects provokes much speculation among police and public alike. From Littleby’s collection, a priceless statue of the Indian god Shiva is missing and appears to have been the motive of this ruthless enterprise.

A single vital clue leads Police Commissioner “Papa” Gauche to believe that the killer is onboard the Leviathan, a gigantic steamship headed to India. A stammering Russian diplomat, a pregnant young lady, an eccentric Englishman, a Japanese army officer and others come under Gauche’s close scrutiny as he attempts to solve the case onboard. How it all ends makes for a fascinating voyage of discovery.

This Boris Akunin novel loses none of its charm, eccentricity or mystery during translation by Andrew Bromfield. It’s fascinating to observe as the novel takes what appears to be a Poirot-like setting as suspects and detective alike are herded into a close, inescapable environment even as the ambitious detective attempts to solve the perplexing case. The novel never loses its originality, narrated as it is from the varying perspectives of the participants. This device not only serves to heighten the suspense but also in course reveals interesting tidbits about each individual narrator’s personal frame of mind and casts a brief but succinct light at their individual cultures and history - particularly the difference in Western and Eastern philosophies.

The close environs of this luxury cruise ship makes an ideal setting for a mystery and in the course of its sailing provides exotic glimpses of places and times bygone. A brief but strong thread of national pride also adds to the general chaos and flavors the narrative with sarcastic zest. All in all, this is a detailed and ingeniously plotted mystery that won’t be soon forgotten.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Rashmi Srinivas, 2005

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