Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Review: The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin

Title: The Winter Queen
Author: Boris Akunin
Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Random House
Published: 2004
Pages: 264

Rating: 4 out of 10

I had heard good things about these mysteries from a friend, so when I saw this one in a used bookstore, I bought it in hopes that it would be the beginning of a wonderful series.

This book stars young Erast Fandorin, who is a handsome, slightly naive detective. He becomes involved in the suicide of a wealthy young student, which leads him down a road of suspense, murder, high ranking suspects, and mysterious beautiful women.

I loved the beginning of this book, which wastes no time in getting to the action - the story begins with a shooting. I was intrigued by the author's writing style here - he somehow combines comedy with the grave situation at hand. I was laughing at the young man's brazen flirting with a pretty young witness minutes before the shooting, but sobered once the gun went off, to the horror of everyone watching.
I liked the combination, and my hopes for the book rose.

However, from there, the book slowly lost my attention. The events surrounding the mystery seemed detached, and I could never really immerse myself in the story. It simply didn't interest me enough.
I was intrigued when Erast goes to Amalia's house - she was by far the best character in the story. However, this is the only scene besides the opening one that really stuck in my mind, and two memorable scenes in an entire book (especially a mystery - which is supposed to be exciting!) is not exactly acceptable.

I found the main character, our sleuth Erast, to range from mildly annoying to improbable to just plain dull. I did not see him a well written or realistic in the slightest.
And I found myself questioning both his character and the author's writing in the scene where Erast challenges one of Amalia's admirers to a duel.
They will put only one bullet in a gun, put the gun in their mouths, and pull the trigger. A gamble with life and death. Erast agrees to this - suggests it, actually - for no apparent reason other than to convince this potential suspect that he is a "worthy sort of chap."
So he would die just to earn the respect of a suspect? Risk his life? It seemed more than a bit over-dramatic.

None of the characters stood out for me except for the beautiful and mysterious Amalia Bezhetskaya, a flirtatious social butterfly with a dark side. She keeps a circle of smitten men around her, basking in their flattery and attention. Since she was described from the beginning as looking like Cleopatra, I pictured her as Elizabeth Taylor. Her character is not exactly strong, but it is certainly better than the others.

The idea of her having somewhere around a dozen men all vying for her attention and content to sit at her feet drooling (and all of them rich and accomplished, no less) seemed, like some of the other scenes, unlikely. But without some overblown details like this, the book would have been decidedly dull.

I wasn't all that impressed with this book.