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 The Diamond Chariot. Akunin has also written several novels set in the present day and starring Fandorin's grandson Nicholas Fandorin.The series currently consists of following novels:
The Winter Queen (1998, originally known as Azazel): Conspiracy mystery, set in Moscow and London in 1876.
The Turkish Gambit (1998): Spy Drama, set in Bulgaria during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877. Adapted into a movie in 2005.
Murder on the Leviathan (1998): Closed Circle murder mystery, set on a Cool Boat en route from Southampton to Calcutta in 1878.
"Before the End of the World": Umberto Eco homage, set in the Russian North, 1897.
"The Prisoner of the Tower, or A Short But Beautiful Journey of Three Wise Men": Maurice Leblanc homage, set in northern France, 1899.
All the World's a Stage (2009): Theatrical mystery, set in Moscow, 1911.
The Black City (2012): Set in Yalta and Baku, 1914.
Akunin also wrote an original stage play starring Fandorin, titled Yin and Yang.
The series provides examples of:
Agent Provocateur: The State Councilor novel contains enough of these to make Erast Fandorin swear he'll never take political cases again.
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 there FN firearms factory is located. From the later part of The Diamond Chariot and onwards Fandorin uses a Browning semiautomatic.
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.
Anachronism Stew: Akunin does this on occasion deliberately, for humorous effect. The Winter Queen has Fandorin 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 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.
On a lesser scale, "Azazel" in The Winter Queen. It doubled as a Title Drop in original Russian.
The character's name is also a bit of Bilingual Bonus for the tech-savvy: if you try to type "Акунин" ("Akunin" in Cyrillic) on a standard Windows Russian/QWERTY keyboard with the language set to English instead of Russian you will get "Freyby".
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.
Big Damn Heroes: Zurov in The Winter Queen, Fandorin in The Jack of Spades.
Big Secret: half the characters in Murder on the Leviathan either have this or seem like it (which is enough to throw off the investigation).
Bittersweet Ending: Fandorin's victories seldom come without a price. Also, in a more specific example, in The Turkish Gambit Fandorin manages to stop the villain's Evil Plan before its final and most disastrous (for the Russians) stage could commence, the villain ends up shooting himself, and the war is won, but it is very much a Pyrrhic Victory, lots of soldiers and several characters are dead, and Fandorin himself leaves for Japan.
In Murder on the Leviathan several of the main protagonists end up dead, one is gravely wounded, not counting ten victims of the murder that sets the whole plot in motion. The perpetrator is captured but the plan was so meticulous that the mastermind is supposed to get off with a short prison term, also, the goal of the perpetrator, a fortune in gems is possibly lost forever.
In The Winter Queen, Fandorin successfully solves the Azazel's case, but not before an assassin hired by his opponents makes and attempt on his life, killing the woman he has married just hours before.
In Decorator, Fandorin manages to catch the extremely dangerous deranged serial killer (who happens to be Jack the Ripper himself) and then executes him but is left by his lover, who says she cannot live with a man who can kill defenseless captive, even though she understands it was necessary. Also Anisiy Tulipov and his sister are murdered by the killer.
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.
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).
Once Fandorin even uses this to check a suspicious lottery: he doesn't win and deduces that the lottery must be rigged. He's right.
When playing 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 (Zurov's servant removed the bullets without anyone noticing).
But Now I Must Go: Disgusted with the corruption of Tsarist government, Fandorin spurns an offer to be chief of police in Moscow and quits at the end of The State Counsellor.
The main villain's prediction in The Winter Queen, about the violent, destructive ways that modernization and change will manifest themselves in the world if they are not managed, comes true in Russia in 1917.
In The Death of Achilles, Achimas muses how Out with a Bang would be acceptable for a French leader but dishonorable for a Russian one. Fast-forward 17 years later, to the death of French president Félix Faure...
"....There are already too many empires in the world—any minute now they will all start wrangling with each other." Doronin in The Diamond Chariot. He also foresees the collapse of those empires, as well as Japan's expansion into continental Asia and confrontation with Russia.
The last line of The Coronation is spoken by Mr. Freyby, who correctly guesses that Nicholas II will be "the last of the Romanovs".
Cannot Spit It Out: Gintaro Aono in Murder on the Leviathan, about him being a doctor and his missing scalpel. This got him arrested, though he was released pretty quickly thanks to Fandorin's intervention.
Camp Gay: Lord Banville and Mr. Carr in The Coronation.
Especially Mr. Carr. Lord Banville borders on the Macho Camp.
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..."
The Cavalry: A literal example in The Turkish Gambit: Sobolev's cossacks arrive to rescue Fandorin and Varvara from the Bashi-bazouks.
Completely Different Title: The original Russian title of The Winter Queen is Azazel, a reference to the secret society at the center of the mystery. The English title is a random reference to a hotel Fandorin stays at.
Cool Car: What counts for one back in the 19th century...
Cool Old Guy: Prince Dolgurokoi. He gets a Crowning Moment Of Awesome 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.
Cut Short: Possibly the fate of the series for English-speaking readers. The British publisher of the Fandorin series ominously refers to The Diamond Chariot as the "finale", despite the fact that two more books have been published in Russia with at least one more on the way.
Dashed Plot Line: The first half of part two of The Death of Achilles, which describes Achimas' life until his Moscow assignment, jumps many years between significant events in his youth, his turn to crime, and major assassination missions.
Also, the series as a whole, which follows Fandorin at the key points of his career and life.
Dead All Along: Though never confirmed due to lack of Omniscient Narrator, it is heavily implied that Emily, recipient of letters written by Reginald Milford-Stokes from Murder on the Leviathan is actually dead. There are several clues related to this death before the denouement.
Death Seeker: a whole club of these in She-Lover of Death... although their sincerity rather differs.
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.
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.
Dub Name Change: Charles d'Hevrais became Charles Paladin in Bromfield's translation of The Turkish Gambit (justified because "d'Hevrais" (French "from Hevrais") is a huge giveaway of Charles' real identity, namely, Anwar Effendi (born in the town of Hevrais); it works well in Russian because the Cyrillic spelling of "d'Hevrais" and "Hevrais" are almost nothing alike but in English, it would be a ruinous spoiler). Later, Anisiy Tulpanov became Anisiy Tulipov (because "tulpan" is Russian for "tulip" and Anisiy's family is explained to have been named after that flower).
Duel to the Death: Colonel Lukan vs. D'Hevrais in The Turkish Gambit, Fandorin vs. Bullcox in The Diamond Chariot
Even Evil Has Standards: Revolutionary terrorist Mr. Green doesn't mind killing cops and government officials, but refused to kill a servant.
Cops and officials were considered enemies of the people by the revolutionaries while servants were treated like 'the oppressed class'.
Several Expies for historical figures - Sobolev for Skobelev in for example.
False Reassurance: In The State CouncellorBig Bad gives to Fandorin a Breaking Speech and then offers a choice: fight him, join him or just keep silent. Fandorin chooses to keep silent. Where is the catch? Fandorin holds information that could save Big Bad's life.
Femme Fatale: Amalia Bezhetskaya in The Winter Queen. Marie Sanfon in Murder on the Leviathan. Dr.Lind, anyone?
Finger in the Mail: The Coronationincludes a subversion of the ransom demand variation; the hostage was killed immediately after the finger was cut off as part of the villain's Evil Plan.
First Gray Hair: Clarissa Stump has a moment like this in Murder on the Leviathan, and it is implied to not be the first time. She rips it out but is immediately ashamed of herself being in denial about her age.
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?"
Freudian Excuse: Lampshaded by Gustave Gauche and used by Renier in Murder on the Leviathan.
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 Chariotonly 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.
Funny Foreigner: Gintaro Aono in Murder on the Leviathan seems to be this, partly because of his ludicrous accent; it's handily subverted in the parts of the novel that are written from his point of view, though. Also lampshaded, as he realizes that he can use his status of Funny Foreigner (a 'wild Asian' as he puts it) to appear in his loose and light traditional Japanese garb, much better suited to the scorching heat than woolen European suits all other upper-class men are obliged to wear.
Goodbye, Cruel World!: the scornfully nihilistic suicide note in the beginning of The Winter Queen. The villain's confession in Murder on the Leviathan seems to be this at first.
Good Eyes, Evil Eyes: Achimas Welde has whitish, almost transparent eyes. (The TV adaptation gives him different colored eyes.)
Government Conspiracy: The clients behind General Sobolev's murder in The Death of Achilles, who thus prevented him from starting a coup d'état.
Also in The State Counsellor, when Fandorin approaches the new Governor-General of Moscow (and relative of the Tsar) with evidence of Pozharsky's crimes, only to find the Governor was well aware of everything he did.
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.
Heroic BSOD: What happens to Fandorin at the end of the first novel.
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).
The Coronation opens with a climactic shootout between Fandorin and Dr. Lind.
To some extent, also the second part of Death of Achilles that explains the events leading the eponymous death that set the whole first part in motion.
If I Can't Have You: When the passengers in Murder on the Leviathan start fighting over the Indian shawl McGuffin (which is actually a map showing the location of a treasure valuable enough to double the size of the Royal Navy, pay for a French revanche against Germany, or wipe out Russia's foreign debts) it's heavily implied that Fandorin deliberately let it blow out of the window to be lost at sea.
A straighter example can be found in the latest book, 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).
I Owe You My Life: Gintaro Aono in Murder on the Leviathan, much to Fandorin's amusement. Later, and more permanently, Masa.
It Works Better with Bullets: In the first novel, Count Zurov tricks Fandorin into committing a suicide of honor. However, it turns out to be a Secret Test of Character (whether Fandorin would really go as far as shooting himself), since Zurov's butler removes all bullets from the revolver while everybody's looking the other way.
Life Will Kill You: In the first Erast Fandorin novel, Count Zurov tells the protagonist about a friend he had once, an army officer who participated in the most brutal fights but died in the peacetime of an accidental alcohol poisoning.
Locked into Strangeness: Fandorin's temples go completely gray by the end of the first novel and remain so until the end of his life. It's worth noting that he was only 22 then.
Milkman Conspiracy: The sinister Azazel conspiracy in The Winter Queen turns out be perpetrated by an international charity network for gifted children and the mastermind behind it is the sweet old Lady Astair.
Mood Whiplash: The Jack of Spades, the first novella of Special Assignments, is a lighthearted comic mystery about a pair of con men/thieves. The Decorator, the second novella, is about a vicious Serial Killer.
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. On the other hand, averted with Anwar Effendi, the Ottoman super-spy, who is perfectly willing to sacrifice his own country for sake of stopping autocratic Russia and winning time for the liberal powers of the West.
Of Corsets Sexy: The young, naive Fandorin of the first book buys a male corset after hearing its snake-oil claims of improving health... which technically turns out to be true, as it later saves his life by deflecting a knife.
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.
Orthodox Christianity: Less relevant than in Akunin's other series starring Sister Pelagia, but plays an important role in the setting and occasionally the plot.
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.
Pocket Protector: In The Winter Queen, Erast's life is saved when an attacker's knife is turned away by his corset.
Early in The Jack of Spades, the eponymous conman goes into a prolonged Internal Monologue about the symbolism of the nickname he picked for himself.
In He Lover of Death, all Khitrovka gangs seem to be structured like card decks: the gang leader is referred as King, his girlfriend is the Queen and his right-hand man is the Jack, while the regular gang members are spread out between ten and six (from most important to most expendable, respectively). The Ace is a King whose gang dominates the entirety of Moscow underworld.
Politically Incorrect Villain: Izhitzov in The Decorator. Suverted when the book makes clear that his opinions are shared by the society around him and because he stops antagonizing Fandorin shortly after making those opinions clear when he becomes an Asshole Victim.
The Power of Love: Very cynically exploited by Dr. Lind, whose multi-national gang consists exclusively of men who are madly in love with her.
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.
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).
Stress Vomit: Subverted in The Turkish Gambit, when Varya throws up after spending days bandaging the wounded and, to top it off, learning that her fiance attempted suicide. She thinks that it's just stress but it turns out that she contracted typhoid fever, putting her out of commission for weeks.
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.
Stylistic Suck: Caliban's poem about meat-seeking dead sailors in She-Lover of Death, while quite creepy, is very much this.
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.
Switching P.O.V.: Murder on the Leviathan cycles through several different POV characters.
The Death of Achilles is divided into two parts. The first part is Fandorin's investigation (using Fandorin as the POV character, for the first time since The Winter Queen). The second part is from Achimas's (the villain's) POV, in which we learn his life story and then go through the events of the first part from his POV. Then there's a climactic chapter that switches back and forth between Fandorin and Achimas's POV as they have their confrontation.
In the first (1905) part of The Diamond Chariot the POV switches back and forth between Fandorin and the Japanese spy he's chasing. Also happens in the second (1878) part, see A Death in the Limelight above.
Ten Little Murder Victims: a variation: the French detective in Murder on the Leviathan was sure that the murderer he was chasing after was somewhere on the large ship, and made sure to have his primary suspects assigned to the same salon to keep an eye on them. Then played straight when one of those suspects was killed too.
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.
Treacherous Advisor: Brilling in the first novel; Fandorin still ended up borrowing from his deductive method and manner of speech, though.
Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Big Bad of the first novel, Lady Astair definitely qualifies for this trope. As does Anwar Effendi from the second novel, what with being the former'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.
Whole Episode Flashback: Used in Part II of The Death of Achilles, in which the life history and criminal career of the antagonist is recounted. This may be a nod to Sherlock Holmes novels, which often used this trope.
Yakuza: The Diamond Chariot. Masa is a former criminal, whose life and honor Fandorin accidentally saved.