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The Winter Queen: A Novel [Hardcover]

Boris Akunin , Andrew Bromfield
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 6 2003 Erast Fandorin Mysteries
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? Decadence and boredom, most likely, is what the commander of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Police thinks, but still he finds it curious enough to send the newest member of the division, Erast Fandorin, a young man of irresistible charm, to the Alexander Gardens precinct for more information.

Fandorin is not satisfied with the conclusion that this 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. There are many unresolved questions. Why, for instance, have both victims left their fortunes to an orphanage run by the English Lady Astair? And who is the beautiful “A.B.,” whose signed photograph is found in the apparent suicide’s apartment? Relying on his keen intuition, the eager sleuth plunges into an investigation that leads him across Europe, landing him at the deadly center of a terrorist conspiracy of worldwide proportions.

In this thrilling mystery that brings nineteenth-century Russia to vivid life, Akunin has created one of the most eagerly anticipated novels in years.

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From Booklist

Three million copies of Akunin's Erast Fandorin historical mystery series have been sold in Russia, where the author is a celebrity. This volume--the first of nine installments so far--should get the series off to a rousing start in the U.S. It's set in Czarist Russia and stars the naive but eager Fandorin as a young investigator with the Moscow police. Why would a university student shoot himself in the middle of the Alexander Gardens? Fandorin sets out to find the answer and soon lands in the middle of a far-reaching international conspiracy. Yakunin effectively juxtaposes the comical innocence of his hero against the decadence of nineteenth-century Moscow--aristocrats idling in gambling clubs while the winds of revolution freshen. In his debut, Fandorin comes across as an odd but appealing mix of Holmesian brilliance and Inspector Clousseauian bumbling. Occasionally, Akunin's style seems a bit affected, aping the manner of, say, Thackeray, commenting on the foibles of his characters, 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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


“Mystery readers should enjoy this story. It is as Russian, and as international, as caviar and vodka! A crafty tale full of atmosphere, character, and action. I look forward to hearing more about the young detective Erast Fandorin.”–Anne Perry

“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

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First Sentence
ON MONDAY THE THIRTEENTH OF MAY IN THE year 1876, between the hours of two and three in the afternoon on a day that combined the freshness of spring with the warmth of summer, numerous individuals in Moscow's Alexander Gardens unexpectedly found themselves eyewitnesses to the perpetration of an outrage that flagrantly transgressed the bounds of common decency. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Summer Reading May 24 2004
By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Boris Akunin's The Winter Queen was a very nice 'read'. The first in a series, Akunin introduces us to Erast Fandorin, a young investigator newly hired by the Moscow police force. Erast comes to the police after his father's family fortune took a dramatic turn for the worse that jolted Erast out of a life of upper-income leisure into a career as a detective. Young, tenacious, intuitive, and more than a bit naïve, Erast is assigned to investigate a clear cut case of suicide. On its surface, an easy investigation designed to ease Erasts's entry into life as an investigator. Of course, all is not what it seems and Erast determines quickly that there is more to the case than a simple suicide. Erast (and Akunin) slowly peel away the layers of mystery and reveals in the process a world-wide conspiracy centered on a series of well run and maintained orphanages endowed by a rich, influential English noblewoman. Along the way Erast encounters love, lust, gambling, and avoids a series of death defying experiences. Standing alone the series of events described above sounds rather pedestrian. A well worn theme. However, the pleasure to be derived from this book is the setting, late 19th century Russia. Akunin has a keen eye for detail and atmospherics. He conveys (as does the excellent translation) a sense of what life must have been life in 19th century Moscow and St. Petersburg.
The book ends triumphantly but Fandorin's triumph turns bittersweet n the last few paragraphs. Although this made for a disconcerting jolt at the end of the book it is quite understandable when one considers that Winter Queen is the first in a long series of Fandorin mysteries. A happily ever after ending would not leave much room for drama in the next installment.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good start to the series July 18 2004
We learn from the book-jacket (and from the description above) that Akunin has sold millions of books in Russia, and that The Winter Queen is the first in a series of novels involving 19th century criminal investigator Erast Fandorin. I stumbled across this book on a table in Harrod's, and if the rest of the series are as fast-paced, witty and well-written as this one I am a new Akunin fan.
The book takes place in 1876 Moscow, where a good-looking, wealthy young gentleman approaches some ladies in the park and shoots himself in the head. Some in the Criminal Investigation Department wish to close the file immediately, an obvious suicide by a lovesick youth, but young Fandorin, a newcomer to the department, takes the investigation seriously. He starts uncovering all sorts of interesting secrets and conspiracies, taking him to London and back. Along the way he must deal with attempts on his life, learn how to gamble for high stakes, preserve his honor by issuing a challenge to a duel, and decide whether an agent in London is trust-worthy or a double-agent.
Some here have likened Fandorin to James Bond, or a Russian Sherlock Holmes, but he doesn't really fit either bill since he is too young, naive, eager to please and vulnerable compared to those classic characters. At various times in the novel Fandorin prepares to meet his maker, including one chilling scene in London where he gets to take a swim in the Thames, Harry Houdini style. We know he must make it to the next book in the series, but he seems to make it by the skin of his teeth. I agree with the reviewer who likens him more to the young protaginist from Caleb Carr's The Alienist, a much closer match in my opinion.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Winter Queen by Mystery King July 17 2004
The ending! What a shocker! I couldn`t get over it for days, and wanted more! I found this book by chance and read it because I am interested in Imperial Russia. Boy, was I surprised at how good it was, written just as though the author had been there. I was so impressed with the detail of the setting, and the translation was excellent and very readable. I of course do not know Russian and haven`t an idea of what the read is like in Russian, but if it is any better than this translation it must be superb indeed! Try not to look ahead, but it will be hard not to... just think of the surprise you will rob yourself of if you do! It is hard to find good surprise endings these days. As I read this book, I was reminded of the original tv series Wild, Wild, West and some of the evil characters that James came up against. This novel is set at the same time or thereabouts and Ruth Rendell is correct in describing this author as an Ian Fleming type! I want to read all of his books, and I have missed Erast since finishing the book! Bring on more! Bravo!
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This is the first in Boris Akunin's series of novels featuring the detective Erast Fandorin in 1870s Czarist Moscow that has been the rage of Russia in recent years, and it is a good thing the novels are supposed to get better as they go, because this was prettty much of a disappointment. Involving a far-reaching anarchists' conspiracy masked behind the apparently random suicide of a student in the Alexander Gardens, the story is full of twists and turns, many of which you see coming (especially the character reversals). Things aren't helped by the translation from the Russian, which winds up sounding exactly like a translation from a foreign language--indeed, it sounds as if it were translated from Russian to a third intervening language and then to English. And the novel's final chapter seems at odds tonally with the rest of the book. On the other hand, the conspiracy itself is pretty original and interesting (although you guess who's behind it very quickly), and the story, while quite literate, is pretty much of a pageturner. Best of all, the main character, the young detective Fandorin, is very appealing. Vain but bashful, smart but naive, and supremely lucky, he does seem promising for later (and, one hopes, better) installments in the series.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
interesting Russian mysteries
Published 2 months ago by T. Czyczko
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Journey Into Czarist Russia
THE WINTER QUEEN is an interesting journey into Czarist Russia. Well written and almost lyrical at times, with a great sense of humor and adventure. Read more
Published on March 4 2012 by James A. Anderson
4.0 out of 5 stars All the little children
In Germany it was student duelling - with sabres, as Mark Twain so vividly described. In late 19 century Russia it was suicide, sometimes performed in bizarre ways - one loaded... Read more
Published on June 5 2008 by Stephen A. Haines
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellant debut of a series...
Akunin's "Winter Queen" is a wonderful addition to the mystery genre. We meet Erast Fandorin in 1876 Moscow, as he attempts to solve a mysterious suicide. Read more
Published on June 1 2004 by Peter LaPrade
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Queen' reigns as a royal series!
"The Winter Queen" by Boris Akunin is set in 1876, Czarist Russia, and introduced me
to Erast Fandorin, the author's young investigator with the Moscow police. Read more
Published on May 10 2004 by Billy J. Hobbs
2.0 out of 5 stars Russian "Penny Dreadful"
Akunin's historical mystery series is hugely popular in his native Russia and spans about ten books, the first of which is this one. Read more
Published on May 9 2004 by A. Ross
5.0 out of 5 stars Rarely, a Modern Russian Book Worth Western Readers.
Having read all of the original Fandorin novels, I was a bit skeptical about the first installment translated into English. Read more
Published on May 9 2004 by Borisovich
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing. A Russian Perils of Pauline
Despite some interesting characters and occasionally rich and lovely language, this book was irretrieveably brought down by a frankly silly plot. Read more
Published on May 8 2004 by N. Quast
3.0 out of 5 stars Starts well ...
After an arresting start, and a nice conceit -- a Tsarist policeman as the good guy -- this devolves into what used to be called a 'penny dreadful'. Read more
Published on April 26 2004 by Ken Braithwaite
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