She Lover of Death
“She Lover of Death is yet another example of why the Fandorin novels are so popular. Akunin is a fan of playing with narrative style, and this novel is no different.”
Erast Petrovich Fandorin is the Sherlock Holmes of Russian detective fiction, and the brilliant Boris Akunin is his Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In She Lover of Death, Fandorin and his Japanese manservant Masa enter the world of the “Lovers of Death,” a suicide club based in Moscow circa 1900.
Each member of the club operates under a pseudonym. They are the Baltic German twins Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the boorish and slavish former bookkeeper Caliban, the famous poet Lorelei Rubenstein, the spiritual medium Ophelia, and the provincial transplant Columbine. The group is led by the intimidating Prospero, a former engineer who thrice tried to kill himself while serving in a Siberian jail. Prospero not only judges the poetry of his followers, but he also guides them toward their deaths. You see, Prospero’s cult is for those dedicated to Death—beautiful, blissful death.
She Lover of Death is told from three perspectives: Columbine’s diary, the newspaper reports of Lavr Zhemailo, who manages to infiltrate the club, and the official memos of a police spy who has also infiltrated Prospero’s abnormal conclave. The famous detective, who gives himself the pseudonym of Genji, does not appear until after the first 100 pages. Despite this late arrival, Fandorin manages to piece all of the clues together and identify the killer, leading his victims to their deaths.
As with all of Akunin’s books, there is a great mystery in here. Namely, the rash of suicides are proven to be the work of a monomaniacal killer; however, unlike many detective novels, this one has a philosophical core. The merits of death and life are debated by the characters, and throughout the book there is a running commentary on modernism and suicide. Namely, in turn-of-the-century Moscow, “Dead bones are everywhere . . .The air is thick and oppressive with the final breaths of those who have died . . .” This is the result of materialism, for the idyllic young of the Russian Empire see no point in either bourgeois morality or peasant Christianity.
She Lover of Death is yet another example of why the Fandorin novels are so popular. Akunin is a fan of playing with narrative style, and this novel is no different. It is also commendable that translator Andrew Bromfield did such a fine job of not only transforming high-minded Russian into proletarian English, but in also in translating other languages as well (this novel has a lot of German and a few phrases of Japanese).
She Lover of Death is an opulent mystery replete with neo-Victorian niceties and manners.