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Special Assignments
The Jack of Spades & The Decorator

by Boris Akunin

      Anybody who has read the other four books (if you havenít, you will need to do this first) will know all about Erast Petrovich Fandorin. He isnít just a pretty face, (although he has one of those, too), but a master of oriental martial arts, speaker of several languages, many times decorated and a winner of all the games of chance he plays. He is rich, and a Collegiate Counselor (aka special agent extraordinaire) but unlucky in love. Here he has two missions to apply himself to, and they couldnít be more different. First, he has to unmask and bring to justice a confidence trickster calling himself Momos, or the Jack of Spades. For an encore, he must capture Jack the Ripper!

I asked somebody if they thought that Akunin was a cozy writer, and I was told that soft-boiled was a better description. After the light shenanigans of the first story, we get to the meat and potatoes of the second and are very definitely not in cozy territory in any sense of the term. This is a particularly graphic tale, which shows once again how Akunin likes to experiment writing stories echoing the various sub-genres of the crime novel. They are exciting, and in the first case delightfully tongue-in-cheek which works very well with a chilly character like Fandorin as protagonist. He is a difficult person to like who seems to be forever viewed through the opposite end of a telescope, and so remains a distant, frosty star. In this book he has a new assistant in the persona of Anisii Tulipov, who almost plays Watson to his Holmes. But this does not quite come off, as Tulipov lacks the personality to be viewed close up, and is another, much fainter, distant star. This aside, these are wonderfully inventive books that have given a new dimension to crime fiction, and best of all give a compelling picture of Russia in the late 19th century from a Russianís point of view. When I read them, I canít help thinking that if anybody else wrote them it would be all Siberia, salt mines and secret police but we are saved all this, and given something else instead.

The Book

Weidenfeld & Nicholson (Orion)
11 January 2007
Historical Crime - 1886 and 1889, Moscow, Russia
More at Amazon UK
NOTE: Not available at amazon US yet. Gory read.

The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2007
© 2006