Synopses & Reviews
Paris, 1878: Eccentric antiquarian Lord Littleby and his ten servants are found murdered in Littlebys mansion on the rue de Grenelle, and a priceless Indian shawl is missing. Police commissioner “Papa” Gauche recovers only one piece of evidence from the crime scene: a golden key shaped like a whale. Gauche soon deduces that the key is in fact a ticket of passage for the Leviathan
, a gigantic steamship soon to depart Southampton on its maiden voyage to Calcutta. The murderer must be among its passengers.
In Cairo, the ship is boarded by a young Russian diplomat with a shock of white hair—none other than Erast Fandorin, the celebrated detective of Boris Akunins The Winter Queen. The sleuth joins forces with Gauche to determine which of ten unticketed passengers on the Leviathan is the rue de Grenelle killer.
Tipping his hat to Agatha Christie, Akunin assembles a colorful cast of suspects—including a secretive Japanese doctor, a professor who specializes in rare Indian artifacts, a pregnant Swiss woman, and an English aristocrat with an appetite for collecting Asian treasures—all of whom are con?ned together until the crime is solved. As the Leviathan steams toward Calcutta, will Fandorin be able to out-investigate Gauche and discover who the killer is, even as the ships passengers are murdered, one by one?
Already an international sensation, Boris Akunins latest page-turner transports the reader back to the glamorous, dangerous past in a richly atmospheric tale of suspense on the high seas.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
is the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili, who was born in the republic of Georgia in 1956. A philologist, critic, essayist, and translator of Japanese, he published his ﬁrst detective stories in 1998 and quickly became one of the most widely read authors in Russia. He has written ten Erast Fandorin novels to date, which have sold more than eight million copies in Russia and been translated into nearly two dozen languages. He lives in Moscow.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. What criteria does Gustave Gauche use in assembling his list of suspects? Are his inferences about the golden whale badge sound? Also, discuss what is at stake for Gauche in solving this case. Did you ever sympathize with his ambitions?
2. Evaluate the varying structure of the novel. Describe how its changing narrative viewpoints, and its digressions and seemingly trivial details (for instance, the news report on cholera), become important throughout the course of the investigation. Also, why do you think Akunin chooses to narrate the story from the perspectives of Gauche, Renate, Clarissa, Milford-Stokes and Aono, but not from that of Professor Sweetchild, the Truffos, or even Fandorin?
3. Renate Kleber complains that her tablemates are “a choice collection ofÉblooms, bores and freaksÉ [and] one lunatic” (126). How does Boris Akunin cast suspicion on each of the characters assembled in the Windsor Salon? What secrets are they each individually trying to hide?
4. Papa Gauche is proud of his title as “Inspector for Especially Important Cases” (54). Discuss the appropriateness of the detectives name, and also how his ego and cultural prejudices thwart his progress. How does Gauche take a simplistic view of people and events?
5. Reginald Milford-Stokes calls the Leviathan “a miracle of a ship” (35). Describe this colossal ship and evaluate the significance of its name. Consider what features of a cruise ship — such as confinement, exoticism, luxury and social stratification -- make it a particularly good setting for a mystery.
6. Erast Fandorin cuts quite a dashing figure on board the Leviathan. Describe his appearance and the effect of his manners on the company assembled in the Windsor Salon. When and why does he stutter? What are his vulnerabilities, as confessed to Clarissa Stamp? And to what personal tragedy does he refer when he offers unwelcome comfort to Reginald Milford Stokes?
7. Gauche claims that the Paris police conducts its work “in accordance with the latest scientific method” (29). What tools do the inspectors have at their disposal? What is the Bertillon method, and what forensic advancement does Fandorin suggest instead? Compare the early work of detectives to our modern practices; how have scientific advancements like forensics and DNA changed the nature of crime solving? On the flipside, how has detective work remained the same?
8. Compare Fandorins logical method of detection with Gauches approach. Do you think it is unusual for a murder mystery to feature two detectives? What does this rivalry add to the plot?
9. Gintaro Aono claims that the Rajah Bagdassars jewels are the “greatest hidden treasure there has ever been in the whole of human history.” (95). Describe the Brahminpur treasure and its unfortunate fate, the mystery of its location, and the importance of Lord Littlebys pilfered shawl.
10. Discuss the diagram drawn by Professor Sweetchild, which Reginald rescues from beneath the table in the grand salon. What did you initially make of the “palace” sketch, and what is the true meaning of the puzzle?
11. Many of the Windsorites display cultural prejudices common in their time. How does this chauvinism increase suspicion amongst the passengers, and how does it lead to false accusations and bungled investigations? More generally, discuss the theme of national pride in the novel.
12. Why does M. Aono try to commit suicide rather than defend himself against Gauches circumstantial charges? Why is honor so important to the samurai, and how do the Eastern and Western philosophies differ? What occasions Aonos enlightenment, and how does he fulfill his “debt” to Erast Fandorin?
13. Who is the real Rue de Grenelle killer, and what complicates the murderers unveiling? Was this the outcome you suspected, or did you peg another Windsorite as the murderer?
14. 1.Do you think the colorful shawl possesses some sort of mystical power? Describe its hold on Renate, Renier, Gauche, and the rest of the Windsorites. Did you agree with Fandorins decision to “accidentally” lose the shawl through the ships window, or would you have kept it? Why are the others ultimately content to see the shawl disappear? Finally, what is the significance of Erast Fandorins parable of the three Maghreb merchants (on page 118) in relation to the treasure?