Synopses & Reviews
Moscow, May 1876. What would cause a talented student from a wealthy family to shoot himself in front of a promenading public? Decadence and boredom, it is presumed. But young sleuth Erast Fandorin is not satisfied with the conclusion that this death is an open-and-shut case, nor with the preliminary detective work the precinct has done — and for good reason: The bizarre and tragic suicide is soon connected to a clear case of murder, witnessed firsthand by Fandorin himself. Relying on his keen intuition, the eager detective plunges into an investigation that leads him across Europe, landing him at the center of a vast conspiracy with the deadliest of implications.
"Ludlum would probably take about a thousand turgid pages to work it all out; Akunin does it in under 250 pages that race along but that find room for a fair amount of social history....Akunin knows how to build suspense, but he also enjoys himself; he shows the reader a good time." Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe
"The familiar police procedural formula exists here, but it is made appealingly strange by the unusual setting and by Fandorin's zany delight in contemporary consumer products....The Winter Queen offers the reliable kick of the basic formula, with some quirky new tangs." Maureen Corrigan, The Washington Post
"[A]tmospheric, smartly plotted, and driven by a host of finely etched characters....[A]s Erast follows the breathtaking (but blessedly convincing) twists and turns of his investigation, he finally faces an enemy who is a real surprise. Highly recommended..." Library Journal
"[A] rousing start....Occasionally, Akunin's style seems a bit affected...but at the same time, that nineteenth-century tone is part of the book's appeal. Anne Perry fans, in particular, will enjoy this series." Bill Ott, Booklist
"If Pushkin had tried his hand at detective fiction, it might have turned out something like this. In fact, the narrative's combination of impulsive passion and cool ratiocination...suggests the early years of the 19th century rather than the period in which the novel takes place." Richard Lourie, The New York Times Book Review
"Elaborate, intricate, profoundly Czarist, and Russian to its bones, as though Tolstoy had sat down to write a murder mystery and came out with The Winter Queen. A wondrous strange and appealing novel, and not quite like anything you've read before." Alan Furst
"Atmospheric and engrossing, The Winter Queen is a historical thriller from the world of the czar. Boris Akunin is Russia's answer to Caleb Carr." Kevin Baker
"[Akunin] is the Russian Ian Fleming....[The Winter Queen] features abduction, villains, beautiful women and, of course, espionage....Akunin's accomplished writing is a treat." Ruth Rendell, The Sunday Times (London)
Moscow, May 1876: What would cause a talented young student from a wealthy family to shoot himself in front of a promenading public in the Alexander Gardens? In this thrilling mystery that brings 19th-century Russia to vivid life, Akunin has created one of the most eagerly anticipated novels in years.
About the Author
is the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili, who was born in the republic of Georgia in 1956; he is a philologist, critic, essayist, and translator of Japanese. He published his first detective stories in 1998 and in a very short time has become one of the most widely read authors in Russia. He has written nine Erast Fandorin novels to date, and is working on two other series as well. Akunin enjoys almost legendary popularity in Russia. He lives in Moscow.
ANDREW BROMFIELD was born in Hull in Yorkshire, England. He has lived in Moscow for long periods, where he co-founded and edited the literary journal Glas, and now lives and works in rural Surrey. He is best known for his acclaimed translations of the stories and novels of Victor Pelevin, including The Life of Insects, Buddhas Little Finger, and Homo Zapiens.
Reading Group Guide
1. Confronted by an epidemic of suicides amongst his young countrymen, Erast Fandorin tells the highly experienced detective Xavier Grushin that “The very best of the educated young people are simply giving up on life—theyre suffocated by a lack of spiritual oxygen.” Explain the tension between the new and old generations in the novel, and why Fandorin thinks “living in your world makes us young people feel sick.” How and why have aspirations—for career, money, public honors—changed for the disenchanted youth?
2. What is the meaning of the code word “Azazel,” and how does this rebellious demon figure in the anarchists plot?
3. Humor and coincidence figure prominently in the plotting of The Winter Queen. Describe Akunins play on cultural perspective; for instance, in his characterization of “American Roulette.” Also, how does Fandorins luck come into play with the Lord Byron corset and the breathing practices of Indian Brahmin Chandra Johnson? Why is humor and chance so unexpected and thrilling in the plotting of a mystery novel?
4. Describe Xavier Grushin; is he merely an “old duffer,” or truly someone with a “genuine analytical talent,” as Fandorin says? Further, how does Grushin compare with the seemingly ingenious Detective Brilling, both as a detective and as a man of character?
5. During his interview with Fraulein Pfuhl and Lizanka, Fandorin is very conscious of his rank as “a civil servant, fourteenth class.” After all, as Pfuhl emphasizes, “order is order.” Describe the importance of rank in the novel, both on a romantic and an official level for Fandorin. Take a look at “The Table of Ranks” on pages 243 and 244; what would it have been like to live in a rigidly structured class system like that of Russia at the end of the nineteenth century?
6. Solving the mystery of Pyotr Kokorins public suicide turns out to be a far larger puzzle than even Fandorin initially had suspected. Describe the various principles of investigation that Akunin skillfully weaves into the narrative, such as cui prodest (“seek the one who benefits”) and Brillings deductive method. In the end, how does Fandorins pluck and intuition solve the mystery?
7. Lady Astair conducts her depraved orphanage based on the outwardly noble idea that “Finding one s own path is the most important thing for anyone.” Describe Astairs educational philosophies and the larger plot against society that it entails. What does the twisted baroness mean when she says: “One cannot clean out the Augean stables without soiling one s hands.”
8. How does Akunins sleuth compare with the famed detectives of other mystery novels? Discuss how Fandorins moments of guilt, fear, vanity, and despair add dimension to his character, and how he matures over the course of his investigations and the novel.
9. Compare Erast Petrovich Fandorins love interests: the pure and innocent maiden Lizanka, and her foil, the dark Cleopatra, Amalia. By the end of the novel, a shocking catastrophe takes place on Fandorin and Lizankas wedding day. How did this traumatic cliff hanger alter the tone of the novel? What changes have taken place in Fandorin, both
physically and mentally in the course of the novel?