Murder on the Leviathan : a novel

by Boris Akunin

Other authorsAndrew Bromfield (Translator)
Paperback, 2005




New York : Random House Trade Paperbacks, c2005.


In 1878 Paris, Police Commissioner "Papa" Gauche must solve a brutal murder. Lord Littleby has been found at home with his head bashed in, surrounded by the bodies of seven servants and two children who all seem to have died from morphine poisoning. The only clue Gauche has to go on is a gold key in the shape of a whale. This key gains entrance to a luxury liner, the Leviathan, whose maiden voyage is to India. Gauche embarks, and finds among the passengers--all highly suspicious--Erast Fandorin, now a diplomat bound for a posting in Japan, but previously a crack inspector in the Moscow Police Department. When Fandorin discovers that a murderer is on board, he joins forces with Gauche--to deduce the awful truth.

Media reviews

...Akunin's delicious pastiche (which plucks its characters from Conan Doyle, Vidocq and Sax Rohmer) is also an elegant comedy of manners. Snappishly witty in Andrew Bromfield's crisp translation, Akunin's dry observations on the moral poverty of the upper classes are drolly set off by his lush descriptions of the material luxuries by which they measure the value of life itself.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Joycepa
3rd in the Erast Fandorin series.

This is a lightweight series that I hope Akunin is having as much fun writing as he appears to be doing. This installment, according to the cover blurbs, is a takeoff on Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Not having read either one, I wouldn’t know, but again, it’s very different in style from the first two. Told from the points of view of different passengers of the mammoth luxury liner Leviathan, on her maiden cruise in 1878, the plot involves a horrendous murder of 12 people in Paris before the sailing and the puzzling theft of Indian artifacts from the collection of an eccentric (is there any ohter kind) English lord. 10 people, including a gruff old Inspector of Police from Paris and Fandorin himself, are in more or less enforced company as members of a particular dining group. One of them is the murderer.

What is so wonderful about the story is that each of the passengers is a stock figure out of 19th century fiction of this type--an insane member of the English nobility (Akunin seems to really get off on portraying The English aristocracy in this fashion), a Japanese samurai, an English spinster, a young pregnant Swiss, the Inspector whose name is Gauche (can you believe it?), and others. Akunin does a brilliant job of both spoof and characterization, and handles the multiple points of view masterfully. Faithfully keeping to the Christie style (as I understand it), no one is who he or she seems to be, and the plot twists and turns according to revelations about each of the passengers. Fandorin is a great Holmes takeoff.

More than anything else, I was reminded of The Pink Panther and the bumbling inspector whose name I can not now remember. It’s that order of comedy/crime. And it’s that much fun.

Highly recommended.
… (more)
LibraryThing member gbill
A wonderful little mystery in the Fandorin series from Boris Akunin. In this one, Fandorin is not the main detective in the beginning of the book, it’s French police commissioner Gustave Gauche who is on the trail of the murderer of ten Parisians. Gauche and a handful of suspects are aboard the steamship Leviathan which is making its way through the Suez Canal, and Fandorin just “happens” to also be there. This is one of the ways that Akunin is masterful in telling the story. The other is in having chapters which center on the various characters/suspects, alternating through them to weave in different perspectives as events unfold – but never Fandorin’s. The result is indirection and restraint, with Fandorin operating almost behind the scenes for most of the book. The characters are great, and the humor, flirtation, classic mystery elements, and plot twists kept it entertaining throughout.

On love:
He is not entirely without vanity, thought Clarissa, but to her eyes this characteristic appeared quite charming and only seemed to make the young man even more attractive. As usual, it was poetry that provided the resolution of the paradox:
For even the beloved’s limitation
Is worthy, in love’s eyes, of adoration.

On men, this as Renate Kleber tries unsuccessfully to attract and snare our hero Fandorin three ways:
“In fact, of course, men were actually more like members of the canine family. Everybody knew they were primitive creatures who could be divided into three main types: jackals, sheepdogs, and gay dogs. There was a different approach for each type.
The jackal fed on carrion – that is, he preferred easy prey. Men of that kind went for the readily available. ….
[The sheepdog] loved weak, helpless women. All they really wanted was to be allowed to rescue and protect you. A fine subspecies, very useful to have around. The main thing here was not to overdo the physical weakness – men were afraid of sick women. …
[The gay dog] was the least complicated, and entirely devoid of imagination. Only a coarsely sensual stimulus, such as a chance glimpse of an ankle, had any effect on them. On the other hand, many great men and even cultural luminaries belonged to precisely this category, so it was certainly worth a try.

Fandorin stepped inside and froze in the doorway. Without turning round, Renate wiggled her rear at him and displayed her naked back to its best advantage. The wise beauties of the eighteenth century had discovered that it was not a dress open down to the navel that produced the strongest effect on men, but an open neck and a bare back. Obviously the sight of a defenseless spine roused the predatory instinct in the human male.”

On women:
“Wasn’t it John Donne who said the secret of female happiness was knowing when to make the transition from one age to the next, and there were three ages of woman: daughter, wife, and mother?”
… (more)
LibraryThing member mks27
Murder on the Leviathan by Boris Akunin is a murder mystery similar to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. The sleuth, in this case, is the Russian diplomat Erast Fandorin and much of the mystery solving takes place aboard a luxury ocean liner in the year 1878. Following the murder of ten people in a Paris mansion, the Paris police determine that the murderer will be sailing on the inaugural cruise of the Leviathan to the Far East. The most notable characteristics of this historical mystery are the author’s attention to both period details and attitudes, which are nicely depicted throughout the story, and his creation of interesting and diverse potential murderers. The settings offer readers a taste of the exotic and a hint of adventure.

This novel has everything that should have made it a page turner, but never was, at least for me. Curiously, I struggled to complete the book forcing myself to pick it up and read, never a good sign. The plot moved slowly and the twists and turns were not as interesting as required to keep me turning the pages. The main character, Fandorin, was not greatly interesting and I struggled to figure him out. On one page, more than two thirds through the book, Fandorin reveals some mystery about his past which intrigued me, heightening my interest for several pages, but this soon fizzled out. True, this book is part of a series and I have not read the earlier installment, The Winter Queen, which may have improved my interest in Fandorin. The author casts two men in the role of sleuth, one who is always following the most obvious, but incorrect path to the guilty party, while Fandorin saves the day and puts all to rights.

This novel was not badly written or developed, but did not capture my attention as I hoped it would. Murder on the Leviathan was translated from Russian by Andrew Bromfield. I have rated it 2 ½ stars in my rating system in which 2 stars is “not my cup of tea” and 3 stars is “enjoyable”.
… (more)
LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
The second Erast Fandorin mystery. Told as an Agatha Christie-style whodunit - think 'Murder on the Orient Express' - the wonderfully enigmatic Fandorin takes a secondary role in this story.

Following on from the shocking epilogue in 'The Winter Queen', the Russian detective is much changed, from the grey in his hair to the stammer in his speech. Suspicion falls on him as he is corralled into a murder investigation that has taken to the seas. French inspector Gauche (wonderful names abound) has narrowed down his list of suspects to a group of passengers travelling aboard the maiden voyage of the proto-Titantic liner 'Leviathan' to India, and means to find out exactly who killed a rich Englishman and his staff in Paris. The mystery was thoroughly twisted and almost impossible, though the real joy of these stories is not solving the puzzle, but watching Fandorin at work (the true mark of a good detective series). The cast of suspects includes a French femme fatale, a Japanese doctor, an English old maid (who throws herself at Fandorin!), and a batty baronet. All were sketched well, but none really came to life - including Fandorin, who is viewed by the other characters throughout.

The comedy and skill of the writing more than sustained this short mystery, however - the era evinced is more roaring twenties than late nineteenth century, but bar a couple of anachronisms ('claustrophobia' and 'psychopath'), the dialogue worked with the historical setting of the series. (And Fandorin precedes the baronet's name with his title when introducing him, when he should have used 'Sir', but that could be in the translation or just a nitpick!)

A fun read, and I can't wait to read more of the series!
… (more)
LibraryThing member richardderus
Diverting entry in an ongoing series. Erast Fandorin is a charming, nineteenth-century Russian James Bond-if-he-was-fathered-by-Nero-Wolfe sleuth trapped on board a huge new luxury liner with a greedy, murderous genius who is after the world's greatest hoard of gemstones.

People die right and left as the sleuth, ineptly assisted by seemingly every passenger assigned to eat in his dining room, closes in on the inevitable identification of the killer/fortune hunter. Much entertaining diversion available, though the novice to the series can pick this volume up and start right here with no fear of missing a step. Akunin is a master of the enriching aside, the grace note that adds a little something to the series' fans' pleasure, but isn't required for the newcomer to understand to get the full impact of the story or the characters.

Genially recommended.
… (more)
LibraryThing member BruderBane
“Leviathan” by Boris Akunin was recommended to me via a book collector’s email list and I was a bit hesitant in attempting but I am definitely glad I did. That Mr. Akunin writes his Erast novels in Russian and pays homage to the delightful murder mystery tales of Ms. Christie -with a modern voice- was doubly pleasurable. While reading “Leviathan” you realize Mr. Akunin has an élan for transporting his reader not so much into a novel’s locale but into the psyches and impulses of their inhabitants. I’ll have to keep an eye out for Mr. Akunin’s next Erast novel on my next bookstore trip.… (more)
LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
1878: At the Paris home of Lord Littleby, a known collector of Indian (meaning from India) artifacts & treasures, a gruesome crime has been committed. Seated together around a table, 9 servants were found dead and upstairs, Lord Littleby himself was bludgeoned to death with a heavy object. Missing from his collection was a statue of the god Shiva, and a shawl. The Inspector of the French police working the case, a M. Gauche, finds one and only one piece of evidence: a golden badge in the shape of a whale that turns out to be a kind of first-class ticket to be worn on the maiden voyage of the British ship Leviathan to Calcutta. The inspector comes up with the idea that the guilty party will be the only one not wearing the badge, and books himself passage on the ship. Erast Fandorin, en route to another post, boards at Cairo, and together they set about solving the mystery -- but as it turns out, not before there are more deaths to be had among the first-class passengers.

I've seen this work compared to that of Agatha Christie's and Erast Fandorin compared to Sherlock Holmes. hmmm. The book is a great deal of fun to read; the narrative style is not off-putting but actually enhances the experience.

I very much recommend it if you liked The Winter Queen (as I did); but my guess is you probably need to read the series in order unlike I did.
… (more)
LibraryThing member cliffagogo
Superbly enjoyable second whodunnit from Boris Akunin, in the style of Agatha Christie. Ten suspects kept on a boat by a bumbling detective, and only the esteemed Ernst Fandorian to sort out the truth from the lies. Addictive.
LibraryThing member jboxer7
As a young mystery reader, my dad recommended this new series to me because he said that I would like the many characters implicated by the story. The mystery is about the murder of Lord Littleby, a collector of museum pieces. He and 9 of his servants were killed. The killer leaves a gold badge to board the steamship Leviathan. Detector Gauche deduces that one of the first class passengers will be missing the badge, and therefore will be the killer. So, he boards this ship with an assistant and enters an epic passage with some interesting suspects. Akunin definitely strives to make the mystery the stereotypical murder mystery by introducing 11 suspects. As the story clearly unfolded I was being sent little hints by Akunin as more information about the suspects was dispensed. The structure was very typical however; a clumsy,old detective (Gauche), 11 varying people in age, nationality, wealth, and the young detective to save the day (Erast Fandorin). The introduction of Fandorin late in the story made it possible for each character to really develop, and take the focus off this main protagonist with a very small role. I liked this book because it maintained that classic murder mystery, but added the development of so many characters that it was still very fresh.… (more)
LibraryThing member danamanian
Tricky! This detective story, told from the point of view of several characters, leads us to several false conclusions, with the big payoff only in the last few pages. The action takes place aboard the new steamship Leviathan, sailing from England to Calcutta. Fandorin is one of a company of travelers who are caught up in a tale of murders in Paris caused by pursuit of the fabled jewels of Brahamapur. As always, a terrific story, almost as good for me as The Turkish Gambit. In fact, it may be as good, but I found The Turkish Gambit a little more interesting because it taught me something new about the Russo-Turkish War.… (more)
LibraryThing member thornton37814
Before the Leviathan leaves France on its maiden voyage, a wealthy man and his ten servants die at the hands of a murderer who leaves behind his ticket for passage on the steamship. Police commissioner Gauche boards the vessel, identifying ten suspects whom he manages to get assigned to the same salon. Will he or the stuttering Russian detective Erast Fandorin be the one to solve the mystery? Additional murders occur aboard.

I listened to the audiobook and the stutter nearly drove me crazy at points. I wish I had chosen the ebook or print book instead. The mystery pays homage to Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express with the venue being an 1878 steamship rather than a passenger train. I won't spoil the plot by revealing too much, but Akunin carefully crafts the mystery, keeping readers second guessing themselves almost to the end with lots of twists and turns.
… (more)
LibraryThing member ElTomaso
Not one of this authors better contributions to the Erast Fandorin series.
LibraryThing member Marse
The Fandorin story continues. This time Akunin takes a cue from Agatha Christie (and many other mystery writers) to put a group of people, each with a possible motive, in a room and have the detective figure out who dunnit. The room, in this case, is on a ship headed to India from Europe. When a mysterious Russian (our beloved Erast Fandorin) boards the ship along the way, the French detective (the murders happened in Paris) has a competitor in figuring out the crime. This was a fun romp.… (more)
LibraryThing member BrianEWilliams
This is a historical whodunit murder mystery story set in the late 1870's, starting in Paris. A clue found at the scene of a horrific mass murder leads police commissioner Gauche to the passenger ship Leviathan. Using the clue, Gauche narrows a potential pool of suspects to the crew and first class passengers of the ship. He joins the ship as an "honored guest of the shipping line" as it embarks on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England to an ultimate destination of Calcutta,India At Port Said, Egypt, Russian diplomat Erast Fandorin joins the ship as a passenger. Initially Gauche considers him a potential suspect too but later changes his mind and views him as a rival detective. Most of the story takes place on the ship, which becomes the "country house" of many classic Golden Age murder mystery stories. It is written in the Agatha Christie style, with a disparate cast of suspects, and Fandorin playing the Hercule Poirot role, in sorting out an intricate plot.

It a good proxy for a Christie novel.with several red herring "solutions" along the way to the final resolution of the mystery. It made for good reading for me, except there is a series of distracting soliloquies in the middle of the book that I found to be tedious and boring.

This was my introduction to the writings of Boris Akunin and I'm sufficiently interested to read another book in this series.
… (more)
LibraryThing member polarbear123
What I like about these books (I have read three of the Fandorin Akunin books now) is that the author does not stick to one writing formula, some of the mysteries are written in the thrid person, then again one I read focussed on characters other than the detective for almost half of the novel before Fandorin even got a look in! Here the action is in an enclosed environment so we see diary entries or at least some chapters are, others are more fluid thoughts of the main protagonists. This allows to see how events are distorted by each party. Very inventive crime writing at its best I should say!… (more)
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
Murder on the Leviathan starts out violently, a record of an examination of a crime scene set in 1878. I think the murders of ten people ranging from ages 6 to 54 in one Parisian house would cause a stir even in the 21st century. Oddly enough, this is not the murder the title of the book refers to. Commissioner Gauche discovers a clue that leads him to the Leviathan, a giant steamship headed for Calcutta. As he sets sail with a host of interesting passengers (in first class) he soons discovers each and every one of them is a potential suspect. It gets interesting when people start dying on the ship. A Russian detective soon joins Gauche on the hunt for the killer… (more)


Original language



Page: 0.7265 seconds