When I was quite young and I was just getting introduced by my mom to the magical world of books, we had a Saturday day ritual. We would go to this famous square in Sofia (“Slaveykov” for the Bulgarians out there) and we would spend hours looking through the old and the new books. I knew what I was looking for – a crime novel by Agatha Christie featuring the infamous Hercule Poirot, which I hadn’t yet read. By some point the task became almost impossible – I was a person possessed and I had read every single story with Hercule Poirot. I moved on to Miss Marple (who I didn’t like that much) and I had no peace until (almost) every book by Agatha Christie was in my possession – carefully read and utterly admired.
Then puberty hit me (along with all the fun, drama, desperation and self-loathing) and I was too busy with other endeavours, which I am not particularly proud of, so reading was a thing of the past. A couple of years ago I did go back to reading with an even bigger enthusiasm but it seemed I no longer needed the thrill and mystery of detective novels. Murder on the Leviathan in that sense was a challenge for me – to see how much my perception from the times I loved Poirot to now has changed.
Murder on the Leviathan is a classic “closed room” mystery novel with a lot of potential and a sharp sense of humour, which led to a couple of loud giggles from my side on the tube. Paris, end of the 19th century. The eccentric Lord Littleby, a collector of rare Indian treasures is brutally murdered in his home. Alongside with all of his servants. A golden statue wrapped in a priceless Indian shawl is missing. The murderer, however, made one mistake, leaving a clue that suggests he/she is one of the passengers on a large steamship,the Leviathan, travelling on its maiden journey from Southampton to Calcutta. Police commissioner “Papa” Gauche, a somewhat funny and clueless version of Hercule Poirot is in charge of the investigation. By identifying ten key suspects and placing them in the same dining room throughout the journey (which I found a bit easy and simplistic to be honest) he begins his theories of conspiration. He is not the real hero, though. A mysterious Russian diplomat, Erast Fandorin, is the true master mind of the investigation, rebuking Papa Gauche’s stupid theories and eventually solving the mystery. Apparently, he is quite a character, featuring in numerous Boris Akunin novels (most prominently in The Winter Queen, which should have been the one I read…) and his style and process of deduction very much remind of the prominent Sherlock Holmes.
All good, yet I failed to be impressed by Akunin. Most of the suspects were one-dimensional characters – stupid but self-confident Papa Gauche, eccentric and rather crazy Englishman, misunderstood Japanese, a spoiled wife of a Swiss banker, etc, etc. Limiting a whole ship of suspects to just a few people seemed a rather easy escape for Akunin. Finally, the ending didn’t leave me in awe – I rarely do, but now I guessed the murderer half-way through and his/her reasons for committing the crime seemed rather shallow and underdeveloped. Still, Erast Fandorin is a charming and enchanting character and the few jokes here and there made Murder on the Leviathan sort of good read. I must say, though, my passion for detective novels hasn’t disappeared even a bit – it’s just that Akunin is not exactly my type of cake.