This is the seventh of Boris Akunin’s Erast Fandorin books to have appeared in English – it was first published in Russian in 2000, and appeared here in February. Having had a bit of a backlog of books and magazines to catch up on, I didn’t get it until last week, which is longer than I generally wait.
The story opens with a description of Fandorin’s death. The narrator tells us that he didn’t like the man, and indeed may have hated him, but he didn’t believe he could die. And so we go back two weeks to how this adventure started…
The story is set in Moscow, 1894, around the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II. This time, the story is narrated by Afanasii Stepanovich Ziukin, butler to a side branch of the imperial family. He encounters Fandorin when a young member of the family is kidnapped. Fandorin has by now retired from official duties and with his manservant Masa has been travelling around the world.
The kidnapper is the mysterious Doctor Lind, a mysterious Moriarty-like figure whom Fandorin has been fighting against for some time. The Doctor demands a high price for the return of the Grand Duke Mikhail Georgievich – the Orlov diamond, part of the sceptre which is essential for the coronation, due in just a few days. In a bid to save the boy, Fandorin devises a counter offer – each day leading up to the coronation, a payment will be made – “rental” on the Orlov stone.
Of course, things don’t go quite according to plan, and there’s lots of the usual action, deduction, confusion and misdirection, culminating in a Reichenbach Falls style confronation between Fandorin and Doctor Lind. Is this really the end for our hero? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
As with previous books in the series, the change of viewpoint works well. While we know that Fandorin is the good guy, Ziukin has his doubts, and deeply mistrusts this strange man. This adds a lot to the telling of the story, which once again benefits from an excellent translation by Andrew Bromfield.
 No, not The Doctor, silly
 Or look for a review by someone less like me