Wednesday, 12 June 2013

He Lover of Death

by Boris Akunin
Phoenix - 2011
336 pages - 8.56 $

Why this book

Quite frankly, I didn't know the author and I bought his book because it was offered at a bargain price in a shop of used books and because it was part of the collection "Great detectives" of 10/18' edition - a French one - which is usually a guarantee of quality.


Senka Skorikov, orphan and urchin, has been abandoned to the murky world of Moscow's gangster district. While picking a pocket or two, he glimpses the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, and joins the gang of her overlord lover, The Prince, so desperate he is to meet her. Senka climbs the criminal ranks, uncovering a stash of precious metal, and gradually capturing the heart of his beloved Death - so named for the life expectancy of her lovers. But as the bandit community balks at his success on both fronts, threats on his life begin to pour in . A dandy and his 'Chinese' sidekick seem to be taking an inordinate interest in Senka's welfare, and it becomes clear that those threatening Senka are linked to a spate of murders, grizzly even by underworld standards. Fandorin must unweave a tangled web of narcotics, false identities and organised crime - but can he survive an encounter with the ever-alluring Death unscathed? Find out in the darkest Fandorin to date!

What I think about it

I liked the writing style, especially the beginning full of slang. I sometimes had the impression of being in an Audiard's film as dialogues are very imaged (even if it was sometimes difficult to understand). As we go along the rise of Senka, the dialogue becomes more chastened, which makes the book more easy to read and allows us to see Senka's progress in society.

The chapters begin with a title which describe the action to follow, even if sometimes what we imagine is not what happens: the author plays with words to destabilize us and keep us from being too confident about our ability to know in advance what will happen. The titles all contain the name of Senka, since it is through him that we live the story. An example title: "How Senka became mamzelle" (A mamzelle is a prostitute).

The plot goes slowly but surely. Because we follow the investigation through Senka and not Fandorin, we do not have all the cards in the progression of thought. We do not know what the detective does when he's not with Senka, making us witnessing the outcome, so it is difficult to find the culprit by yourself.

Last point to add, this book makes us live from the inside (through Senka) what life in Russia was at that time, with its codes, its hierarchy, its neighborhoods. Life was harsh and corrupt, at least in slums as beautiful areas were protected. It feels a little like in Les Miserables - Russian version - and with an investigation for bonus.

Let's be brief

An author worth reading that allows us to discover a brutal Russia and to enjoy a nearly extinct language nowadays. Besides, I take hats off to Paul Lequesne (the French translator) who did a remarkable job to find the French slang which corresponds to that used by Akunin.

An investigation in which the twists abound. A Russian detective as British as can be. A true atmosphere specific to the author. In short, Akunin, considered the idol of Russian literature, collects readers and I understand why: to try!

Good to know

He Lover of Death is a mirror novel whose double is called She Lover of Death. Both books can be read in any order because the two investigations are conducted at the same time and same place, but with different characters - apart Fandorin and Massa. There are also allusions to the other investigation in He Lover of Death when Fandorin announces that it had to deal with another investigation to explain his absence.

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