BOOK REVIEW: SPECIAL ASSISGNMENTS
Erast Fandorin, the Russian Sherlock Holmes, is back and has to use all of his formidable deductive skills to solve the two cases that make up the twisted special assignments he faces in Special Assignments: The Further Adventures of Erast Fandorin, by the renowned author Boris Akunin. If you are unfamiliar with Akunin's famous sleuth, you will find it immensely rewarding and entertaining to read some of his earlier Fandorin books, such as The Winter Queen, the first one showcasing his talents; The Turkish Gambit; Murder on the Leviathon; and The Death of Achilles. But, it's far from necessary to have read these to still get a load of reading pleasure from his latest book, Special Assignments.
The two cases display two sides of both Erast Fandorin and his creator, Akunin. In the first story, "The Jack of Spades," Akunin shows he can have fun with his character in a light-hearted novelette where Erast attempts to track down the notorious rogue the Jack of Spades, who leaves behind him at the scene of his scams his infamous calling card, a jack of spades. The second novelette, "The Decorator," is much more serious in tone, and is about a serial killer who desires to reveal the hidden beauty he believes is in even the ugliest of humans, by removing their internal organs and "decorating" the scene of the crime with them. Could the murderer be, Erast wonders, London's Jack the Ripper, transplanted to Moscow and continuing his bloody killing spree in new territory?
Both of the novelettes are masterpieces of deductive reasoning by Fandorin, and make for a very entertaining book, indeed. "Jack of Spades," introduces to the series the character Anissi Tulipov, a lop-eared fellow who has to care for his retarded younger sister with a less-than- desirable income. He becomes Fandorin's assistant, and proves to be of valuable service in the court counselor's quest to capture the Jack of Spades, who also goes by the name of Momos. Momos has pulled vastly successful money-making scams throughout Russia, and thinks there's no reason why his success won't continue in Moscow. He meets his match, though, in the person of Erast Fandorin, who thwarts the Jack of Spade's plans, like when he attempts a lottery con. When he lures Erast and his Japanese servant Masa away from Fandorin's house, steals some of Erast's and his current mistress's valuables, and leaves behind his calling card, this only serves to heighten Fandorin's desire to make Momos pay for his crimes.
"The Decorator" is a macabre look into the soul of pure evil, and is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the Ripper killings and possible theories about who committed the murders. We are provided keen insights into the bizarre and deranged thinking processes of the murderer through reading some of his journal entries. He (though Fandorin reasons it could also be a "she") reveals he believes he's working in the service of the Lord, by showing the beauty inside all of us, which he feels is more beautiful than any flower. Death, to him, is a gift, and a liberation of the soul, and killing is a form of love:
A stroke of the scalpel, and I open the doors of freedom to her soul.
Liberation does not come without pain; it is like birth. The woman I now love with all my heart is in great pain. She wheezes and chews on the gag in her mouth, and I stroke her head and comfort her. "Be patient."
Boris Akunin carries on in the hallowed tradition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Special Assignments. Sometimes Fandorin, like Sherlock Holmes, jumps to conclusions, like when he deduces In "The Jack of Spades" that the lottery Momos organizes is rigged because he's always lucky at games and yet doesn't win anything, in general his reasoning is based on sound logic and deductive reasoning based on the available evidence. If you have a warm spot in your heart for Holmes, or just love excellently plotted mysteries and like to pit your wits against the best of literary sleuths, you won't be disappointed with Special Assignments.
REVIEWED BY DOUGLAS R. COBB
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