Literature / Erast Fandorin

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Erast Fandorin is the eponymous protagonist of a highly popular Russian Historical Detective Fiction series set in the 19th century. He starts off as a regular police clerk in Moscow in 1876 and eventually becomes a Great Detective of international renown, on one occasion employed even by the Tsar himself. Early in his career, he exiles himself to Japan, learns the ways of the ninjas, and returns even more badass than before. Later in his life, he becomes a technology geek (while retaining his badassitude, of course) with a special fondness for Cool Cars.

The books were written by Boris Akunin (his real name is Grigory Shalvovich Chkhartishvili but it's too difficult to pronounce) and noted for their eloquent writing style, remarkable characters, intelligent mysteries, and countless references to Russian history and literature. Every book in the series belongs to a different subgenre of detective mystery (Government Conspiracy, Spy Drama, Professional Killer mystery, etc.). English translations were published for every novel through Fandorin #10, The Diamond Chariot.note  Akunin has also written several novels set in the present day and starring Fandorin's grandson Nicholas Fandorin.

Live-action adaptations of Fandorin novels include a Russian TV adaptation of The Winter Queen and Russian film adaptations of The Turkish Gambit and The State Counsellor. No English-language live-action Fandorin adaptation has ever been made; an English adaptation of The Winter Queen languished in Development Hell for many years.

A full list of published novels can be found on the Recap page.

See also Sister Pelagia, for the other detective series by Boris Akunin known to the English reader.


Fandorin novels with their own work pages:


Tropes found in other books and general Fandorin tropes:

  • A.K.A.-47: Fandorin usually uses a fictional "Herstal-Agent" revolver. It is small, flattish, accurate only at short distances, and holds seven cartridges—all in all, a revolver Expy of then-not-yet-designed FN-Browning M1900 (a.k.a. Browning No.1) semiautomatic. The name "Herstal-Agent" is a Shout-Out—Herstal being the Belgian town where the FN firearms factory is located. From the second part of The Diamond Chariot onwards, Fandorin uses a Browning semiautomatic. On the other hand, the description of Herstal-Agent, especially safety located where the hammer would normally be on a revolver, is a rare feature in revolvers in general, and is a very distinctive feature of Webley "WP" Pocket Hammerless revolver, which dates to roughly the same time period. In a possible subtle reference to that, Fandorin is using a Webley semi-auto pistol in The Black City.
  • Anachronic Order: The entire series. The first 9 1/2 novels track Fandorin's life from 1876 to 1905—but Part II of The Diamond Chariot leaps back to 1878. The next book, Jade Rosary Beads, fills in Fandorin's adventures in the 1880s. Then with All the World's a Stage Akunin jumps forward to 1911 to pick up the progress of Fandorin's life again. Then after The Black City takes Fandorin to 1914, the three novellas of Planet Water fill in some more of his adventures 1902-1912.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • Akunin does this on occasion deliberately, for humorous effect. The Winter Queen has a character using a telephone in Moscow in 1876—the same year that the telephone was being invented in the United States.
    • Of note, however, is the fact that Fandorin is attributed numerous timeline appropriate advances in criminalistic science, or at least incorporating them into his methods as soon as they're invented elsewhere, much to the chagrin of criminals who have never heard of fingerprint tracing or telephone eavesdropping before. He also keeps ahead of the times in other ways—for example, he's nearly the only person who has an automobile in a turn-of-the-century Moscow.
  • Anti-Villain: Boris Akunin simply loves those (the latter part of his own pseudonym means "villain" in Japanese, but was redefined to mean "one who creates his own rules" as stated in The Diamond Chariot), so many if not most villains have shades of this to some extent or another.
  • Arc Number: 11 in All the World's a Stage
  • Arc Words: In every novel (with one exception) there's someone named Moebius. Among them there are a photographer, a Red Shirt policeman, a notarius... So far Boris Akunin has refused to explain whether the name has any special meaning.
  • Author Appeal: Boris Akunin, real-life Japanophile and professional translator of Japanese into Russian, referenced Japanese culture often, starting with Aono in Murder on the Leviathan and continuing with Masa, Fandorin's sidekick starting with The Death of Achilles. But in The Diamond Chariot, he takes it Up to Eleven, recounting Fandorin's adventures in Japan, inserting lengthy discussions of Buddhism and the way of the ninja, and towards the end forgetting the plot for an entire chapter where Fandorin and Masa study at a ninja training camp.
  • Avoiding the Great War: Towards the end of The Black City, Fandorin is hired to investigate the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand before the conflict escalates. Unfortunately, he never makes it to Austria in time because he is shot in the head by a treacherous ally.
  • Badass Grandpa: Xavery Grushin in The Winter Queen and especially Death of Achilles, who also doubles as Old Master, Cool Old Guy, Retired Badass, and pretty much every other benevolent Mentor archetype.
  • Battle Butler: Masa fits this trope to the T.
  • Benevolent Boss: Xavery Grushin (see Cool Old Guy below) and Prince Dolgorukoi. Every other boss who seems to fit the description at first either betrays the protagonist in the end, or is not there for long.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Zafar for Saadat-hanum in The Black City.
  • Boisterous Bruiser:
    • Ippolit Zurov (a somewhat darker example, given his Blood Knight and Byronic Hero tendencies).
    • In The Black City, Kara-Gasym plays this straight until the subversion in the very end.
  • Born Lucky: Fandorin himself. He suspects it's the universe's way of compensating for his father's very bad luck (and the resulting gambling debts). Another possible explanation is that whenplaying cards for the first time in The Winter Queen, he bet his life against Zurov's... and lost. As he was about to shoot himself, Zurov stopped him, and Fandorin seemingly got a blank check from Fortune since (it's pretty clear, though, that Zurov cheated, just like he did with the revolver Fandorin tried shooting himself with, as Zurov's servant removed the bullets without anyone noticing). One particularly notable occurrences of his luck is when he uses it to check a suspicious lottery: he doesn't win and deduces that the lottery must be rigged. He's right.
  • Call Back: Many, throughout the series, to earlier novels. One example: The Diamond Chariot has a character randomly quote a newspaper, which states that Commodore Endlung and State Counsellor Zuikin are among the dead at Tsushima. Endlung and Zuikin were characters from The Coronation, with Zuikin the Romanov butler being the narrator of that novel. In The Coronation Endlung recommends that Zuikin leave Romanov service and join the navy.
  • Cartwright Curse
  • Catch Phrase: Not exactly, but Fandorin's characteristic way of reaching a Eureka Moment by deduction: "The suspect did so-and-so - that is one. The car was parked at the corner of this and that street - that is two..."
  • Central Theme: A series of detective novels set in Russia from 1876 to 1914. The Central Theme, of course, is the decline and fall of Tsarist Russia. This is underlined right off the bat in The Winter Queen, when Lady Astair talks about the violent and destructive ways that change might manifest if it isn't managed. In The Turkish Gambit, the Big Bad says that Russia is dangerous and primitive and will do great damage to the world if it isn't contained. Sobolev's mistress in The Death of Achilles says that what Russia needs isn't the Dardanelles, it's enlightenment and a constitution; meanwhle Sobolev and his faction represent the pan-Slav militarism that eventually leads Russia to disaster in World War I. The State Counsellor has a friend of Fandorin musing about how the government should stand up for the workers, and guarantee them basic rights like an eight-hour day and decent living conditions, and how if the government fails, the workers will go over to the revolutionaries. The Coronation portrays a decayed, decadent Romanov family headed by a weak and spineless monarch, Nicholas II. The Diamond Chariot finds Russia embroiled in a pointless war with Japan, which Russia is losing; the book opens with the word of a disastrous naval defeat at Tsushima. A worried Fandorin muses that "Russia was seriously ill, running a high fever," while "a deadly tumor was burgeoning" inside.
  • Cool Car: What counts for one back in the 19th century...
  • Cool Old Guy: Prince Dolgurokoi. He gets a Crowning Moment of Awesome in The State Counsellor when he shocks his fellow aristocrats by sitting next to a fire-breathing young revolutionary at a dinner and arguing politics, and at the end she comments 'what a nice old man', shocking Fandorin in turn.
  • Crime After Crime
  • Culture Clash: Between the Japanese and the Europeans (including Russians).
  • Cultured Badass: Fandorin
  • Cursed with Awesome: Fandorin's luck at gambling.
  • The Dandy: Fandorin is always very well turned out, dressing fashionably, with a neatly waxed mustache. The corset he's wearing in the first book saves his life.
  • Dashed Plot Line: The series as a whole, which follows Fandorin at the key points of his career and life.
  • A Day in the Limelight: "The Scarpea of the Baskakovs" (a short story from Jade Rosary Beads) focuses on Anisiy Tulipov in the same manner as The Hound of the Baskervilles focuses on Dr. Watson.
  • A Death in the Limelight: Fandorin is the POV character for most of the second part of The Diamond Chariot, but three of his fellow investigators get their own POV chapters, in order, where each of them is killed off.
  • Disproportionate Reward
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Almost happens with Masa in The Black City. He's not dead but critically wounded and stays out of the action most of the time.
  • Duel to the Death: Colonel Lukan vs. D'Hevrais in The Turkish Gambit, Fandorin vs. Bullcox in The Diamond Chariot.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The first three novels can read like this, especially The Winter Queen/Azazel, because Fandorin has not yet acquired most of his quirks and methods he consistently shows from The Death of Achilles onward: at first, he does not stutter, his temples are not grey yet, he doesn't number his arguments with his signature jade rosary beads, has no mad ninja skills and no devoted Japanese butler, etc., etc. In short, he is just a regular young police investigator who just happens to have been Born Lucky.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Erast Fandorin. Point-of-view characters Tulipov and Ziukin comments how beautiful he is, and in The Coronation Fandorin quickly attracts attention of homosexual Mr. Carr.
  • Eureka Moment
  • Expy:
  • Fiery Redhead / Evil Redhead: Ashlyn Calligan in "Dream Valley".
  • The Film of the Book: The Winter Queen, The Turkish Gambit and The State Counsellor were adapted either as short TV Series or movies. A new movie version of The Winter Queen is on its way.
  • Foregone Conclusion: In the end of The Black City, Fandorin is shot in the head by a traitor. This takes place in 1914, and if you have read Altyn-Tolobas, you should know that Erast's son and Nicholas Fandorin's father Alexander was born in 1920, making sure that Fandorin would have to stay alive for at least five more years.
  • Foreshadowing: A lot; one example that stands out is in The Coronation when Fandorin muses frantically on what a character was about to shout out about Dr Lind before being cut off, with his examples being treated as throwaway lines - "Is he a woman?"
  • Frozen Flower: Fandorin turns into one of the rare male variety after the first book when he witnesses his beloved wife blown to pieces. He then thaws again in Diamond Chariot only to end up with the motionless body of another lover in his arms. His final thaw happens in All the World's a Stage... and apparently lasts.
  • The Fundamentalist: Mother Kirilla in "Before the End of the World".
  • Funetik Aksent: German, folk Russian and Japanese.
  • German Russians: Fandorin is from a Russified German family (originally "Von Dorn").
  • Good Eyes, Evil Eyes: Achimas Welde has whitish, almost transparent eyes. (The TV adaptation gives him different colored eyes.)
  • Good Shepherd: Father Valery in "A Lone Sail". Mother Superior Fevronia was one, too.
  • Gratuitous Japanese, subverted: All conversations Fandorin and Masa have in Japanese are perfectly correct and appropriate. The author being a professional Japanese interpreter and a Japanophile helps.
  • Gratuitous Ninja: Erast Petrovich Fandorin—19th century Russian white ninja.
  • Great Detective: At one point, Fandorin is pitted against Sherlock Holmes himself... and both lose to Arsène Lupin, although not without humiliating him.
  • The Gunslinger: Erast Fandorin, also Washington Reed. Fandorin is "Gun Fu" type, Reed is "Quick Draw" type.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Fandorin and Masa.
  • Historical-Domain Character: The books feature a lot of these, usually renaming them (e.g. General Skobelev becomes General Sobolev). The highest concentration of these is probably in The Death of Achilles and The Coronation.
  • Historical In-Joke: Many, many of them.
  • Heroic Fire Rescue: By Fandorin, as recounted by Angelina in The Decorator. "Before the End of the World" also features one.
  • Homage:
    • To many, many real-life and fictional Victorian-age characters and settings. There is a "Fandorin and Sherlock Holmes versus Arsene Lupin" short story, a "Fandorin versus Jack the Ripper" novel, a "Fandorin comes to the Old West" novella...
    • Pozharsky's full name (Gleb Georgievich Pozharsky) is notable similar to Zheglov's full name (Gleb Georgievich Zheglov).
  • Honor Before Reason: George Devyatkin in All the World's a Stage. Subverted: Devyatkin is a villain and uses Honor Before Reason to screw up Fandorin's plans without being suspected.
  • If I Can't Have You...:All the World's a Stage, where the villain realizes that he cannot win the love and respect of the woman he is obsessed with and decides to kill her and everyone else in her actor troupe in a suicide bombing.
  • Ingesting Knowledge: Samsonite is a chemical invented by Samson Fandorin, an ancestor of Erast Fandorin, in "Quest". Drinking it reforms connections in the brain in such a way that the user acquires new information - for example, "hears" a message from Fandorin. It can also contain general knowledge (in the novel, Russian language and culture).
  • Insufferable Genius: Pete Bull, Fandorin's brilliant mechanic and engineer in Planet Water.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: If a chapter is from Fandorin's POV, it is probably titled this way.
  • I Was Just Passing Through
  • I Owe You My Life: Gintaro Aono in Murder on the Leviathan, much to Fandorin's amusement. Later, and more permanently, Masa.
  • Japanese Ranguage: Masa's inability to pronounce the letter L is a Running Gag throughout the series.
  • Large Ham: Ippolit Zurov and Prince Pozharsky. Turned Up to Eleven by Nikita Mikhalkov who plays the latter in the movie adaptation.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: happens to Fandorin in All the World's a Stage
  • Mama Bear: Saadat Validbekova in The Black City. Gets a Moment of Awesome beating the hell out of the man who kidnapped her son.
  • Master of Disguise: Fandorin himself, but also Momos in The Jack of Spades and Achimas Welde in Death of the Achilles.
  • Meaningful Name: The author's pseudonym, "Akunin", is spelled in Japanese as '悪人', which means 'an evil man' or 'villain'. Make of this what you will. Explained in an Author Filibuster by the antagonist in The Diamond Chariot, which openly admits to being evil and is inclined to elaborate why. According to said villain, a true "Akunin" is the embodiment the kind of evil that commands respect due to being honorable, ingenious and, above all, never petty.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Fandorin runs into this stereotype every now and then; he is a walking subversion, though. Then there is Ippolit Zurov (who could be intelligent and gallant, but often isn't).
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Fandorin himself has this to some extent, as do some other characters otherwise critical of the Tsar's government and policies.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Invoked in All the World's a Stage - theatrical actor who plays the villains uses the stage name Mephistov.
  • Non-P.O.V. Protagonist: Used for the bulk of the series. Through ten Fandorin novels translated into English, the only ones where he is the POV character are The Winter Queen, The Death of Achilles (first half only), The State Counsellor (half the chapters) and The Diamond Chariot (second half only). In all the other books the story is told through the eyes of one or more supporting characters.
  • Old Master:
    • Momochi Tamba, the head ninja in The Diamond Chariot.
    • Fandorin himself becomes one by the time of The Black City, where he pretty much wastes everyone (who doesn't get a drop on him from behind and tie him up head to toe) with his bare hands at the age of 59.
  • Painting the Medium: Newspaper articles are shown as two columns of text. Gintaro Aono's segments in Leviathan are printed sideways, suggesting the way in which Japanese is written and/or Aono's Fish out of Water alien worldview among the Europeans.
  • Posthumous Sibling: Fandorin has had two known sons: "Captain Rybnikov", revealed to be Fandorin and Midori Tamba's son in Diamond Chariot, committed suicide in 1905, while his first and only legitimate heir, Alexander Fandorin, was born in 1921, though neither he, nor Fandorin himself ever learned that even had an older brother.
  • Prematurely Grey-Haired: Downplayed. Fandorin's temples go completely gray by the end of the first novel, when he was just 22, and remain so until the end of his life.
  • Public-Domain Character:
    • Erast runs into Sherlock Holmes and Arsène Lupin during the course of his adventures.
    • And Comedy/Tragedy reveals that Horatio was a Von Dorn who orchestrated most of the events of the play behind the scenes
  • Putting On My Thinking Cap: Starting with Special Assignments and continuing for the rest of the series, Fandorin has a habit of pulling his jade rosary beads out of his pocket and clicking through them when he's trying to work something out in his head.
  • Reconstruction: Of Russian detective fiction.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Washington Reed at the end of Dream Valley.
  • Speech Impediment: Fandorin started stuttering after the first book; the stutter disappeared in the more critical moments, unnerving his conversants.
  • Spy Fiction: When this trope applies (see above, plus Death of Achilles) it is pure Martini, or rather Champagne. Pretty dry though.
  • The Stoic: Several villains fall into this area, notably Achimas Welde from The Death of Achilles and Mr. Green from The State Counsellor. Fandorin himself is one compared to other characters, but tends to break from Emotions vs. Stoicism much more easily than the villains.
  • "Strangers on a Train"-Plot Murder: "One Tenth Percent" from Jade Rosary Beads
  • Strictly Formula, In-Universe: In All the World's a Stage, Director Stern admits that writing plays based on the same ten archetypes is the key to his success. He even has a permanent cast, each of whom exactly matches one of said archetypes (including himself).
  • Stuttering Into Eloquence: Erast. His stutter, although noticeable is very slight and never prevents him to speak precisely and eloquently. Also subverted, as lack of stutter usually signifies that Erast is close to solving a mystery. It can also mean that he's really, really angry.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Many times: Zurov in Turkish Gambit, Grushin and Sobolev in The Death of Achilles, Tulipov in The Decorator... Boris Akunin loves this trope.
  • The Summation: But of course. Also, subverted in Murder on the Leviathan when Gustave Gauche gave just such a summation when he thought he solved the case (with 1/3rd of the book still to go)... only to be completely and thoroughly overturned by Erast Fandorin.
  • Technical Pacifist: Washington Reed.
  • Thieves' Cant: Fenya crops up every now and again; not surprising, given the series' subject matter. The Death of Achilles features Xavery Grushin, an undercover police investigator, gaining the trust of a Moscow gang by speaking fluent Fenya.
  • Thinking Tic: From Special Assignments onwards, Fandorin acquires a habit of grabbing his jade rosary beads and telling them in silence while contemplating.
  • Translation Trainwreck: The titles of the eight and ninth novels were rendered less than elegantly in English. In the original Russian they translate to Mistress of Death and Lover of Death. Instead they were published, oddly, as She Lover of Death and He Lover of Death.
  • Villainous Legacy: The legacy of The Conspiracy from the first novel and of its mastermind comes back to bite Fandorin at least twice later on in his career: the Big Bad of the second novel turns out to be a student of said mastermind, and the assassin in the fourth novel is the same guy that tried killing Fandorin twice in the first book... and he's still willing to fulfill that contract.
  • Vomiting Cop: Fandorin himself, on his first crime scene and also in the opening scene of The Decorator.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Boris Akunin loves this trope.
    • As does Anwar Effendi from the second novel, what with being Lady Astair's pupil.
    • The revolutionary Mr. Green may also qualify.
    • Also Commisar Khurtinsky, orchestrator of the Sobolev's assassination. To make matters more complicated, also Sobolev himself.
    • Napoleon in Planet Water is one of these, too. He even mentions Lady Astair and her organization and asks if Fandorin ever felt sorry for thwarting their plans.


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