Literature / Special Assignments

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Special Assignments (Особые поручения) is a 1999 Russian detective novel by Boris Akunin. It is the fifth of fourteen novels in the Erast Fandorin mystery series. Actually, it's more properly the fifth and sixth novels, as it consists of two separate, unrelated, and very different stories: "The Jack of Spades" and "The Decorator".

  • "The Jack of Spades" (Пиковый валет): It's 1886 in Moscow, four years after the events of The Death of Achilles, and Fandorin is still working as the deputy for "special assignments" of the governor of Moscow, Prince Dolgurukoi. The prince has just been swindled out of a hundred thousand rubles by an infamous con artist named Momos. Comic escapades ensue as Fandorin pursues Momos and his lovely partner in crime, Mimi. Along the way Fandorin picks up a Watson in the form of his young assistant, rookie cop Anisii Tulipov.

  • "The Decorator" (Декоратор): 1889, three years later, and Fandorin remains employed as deputy to Prince Dolgurukoi. A prostitute is found murdered and horribly butchered on the streets of Moscow. Fandorin, acting on a hunch, has several more bodies of recently deceased prostitutes disinterred from the local cemetery. He confirms that all five dead prostitutes were victims of Jack the Ripper, who has apparently relocated to Moscow after his murder spree one year before in London. Fandorin, with Tulipov tagging along, races to catch the brutal killer.


Tropes:

  • Accidental Bargaining Skills: Fandorin tries to convince his future protege Tulipov to leave his old job and work for him full-time by making him increasingly generous employment offers—all the while Tulipov is at a loss for words because he's so flabbergasted by the very perspective of becoming Fandorin's assistant.
  • Accidental Misnaming: In The Decorator, Dolgurukoi consistently botches the name of Izhitsin, the Head Police Master from the Public Prosecutor's Office who's been superseded by Fandorin. He comes up with Luzhitsin, Pizhitsin, and even Glagolev.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Anisiy Tulipov, towards Fandorin: he starts off as one of the many Fandorin fanboys among the younger police clerks in Moscow and eventually becomes his personal assistant and protege.
  • Asshole Victim: Merchant Eropkin is really just a horrible monster—once had a man whipped to death for stealing from him, once had a man's hands smashed in a door for accidentally cutting him during a shave. Momos, who was about to flee Moscow to avoid being captured by Fandorin again, sticks around specifically to rob Eropkin.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In The 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 Anisii Tulipov and his sister are murdered by the killer.
  • Blackface: Fandorin and Tulipov don this when they are disguised as Indian princes in an attempt to catch Momos.
  • Born Lucky: As noted throughout the series, Fandorin never loses at games of chance. Here he deduces that the charitable lottery is actually Momos's scam when he buys a ticket, and doesn't win.
  • Call-Back: Fandorin uses the backstory from Fandorin novel #2, Murder on the Leviathan, as inspiration for a tale of an Indian Rajah and a diamond, in order to lure out Momos.
  • Call-Forward:
    • One of the suspicious advertisements that Tulipov reads out of the newspaper when looking for leads for Momos is for some sort of self-propelled carriage with "an internal-combustion engine."
    • In The Decorator Fandorin takes one look at the bad complexion of Count Tolstoy, the Minister of Internal Affairs, and concludes that his days are numbered. The real Dmitry Tolstoy died a couple of weeks after the setting of this story.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Pakhomenko, the genial night watchman at the cemetery, turns out to be The Decorator.
  • Con Man: Momos. He starts his life of crime by taking out eleven different mortgages on a piece of land he inherited. He attracts the attention of Fandorin when he sells Prince Dolgurukoi's mansion to a gullible Englishman.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: In Moscow as in London, the Ripper goes after street prostitutes.
  • Dub Name Change: Anisii Tulpanov becomes Anisii Tulipov in the English translation because "tulip" in Russian is тюльпан ("tulpan").
  • Finger in the Mail: The Decorator sends Fandorin a package containing a human ear. (In Real Life the actual Jack the Ripper sent the London PD half of a human kidney.)
  • Hate Sink: Merchant Eropkin in The Jack of Spades. The main antagonist is a sympathetic Lovable Rogue, but the reader can hate the greedy, cruel and hypocritical Eropkin.
  • In-Joke: One that at the time this novel was published was known only to a few. Mimi at one point adopts the alias "Princess Chkhartishvili". The Fandorin novels were published under the pen name "B. Akunin" because at the time Grigol Chkhartishvili, academic and professional Russian-Japanese translator, didn't want his peers to know he was writing detective fiction. Akunin/Chkhartishvili finally went public in 2000 when a magazine was about to out him.
  • It's Personal: Fandorin says these exact words after Momos scams his way into Fandorin's house and steals all of Fandorin's girlfriend's stuff.
  • It Will Never Catch On: A Moscow newspaper report in The Decorator states that the citizens of Paris are nervous about their ugly new Eiffel Tower, with its base too small to withstand the wind.
  • Let Off by the Detective: Fandorin lets the Momos off at the end, mainly because he has no solid evidence against him, Momos returned everything he stole from Fandorin and his friends, and, along the way, helped him catch an Asshole Victim red-handed. He does arrest Mimi, however, but Momos gets her out of prison in no time.
  • Mood Whiplash: The Jack of Spades is a lighthearted comic mystery about a pair of con men/thieves. The Decorator is about a vicious Serial Killer.
  • Non-P.O.V. Protagonist: Used for most of the books in the Fandorin mystery series. In this one, Tulipov is the POV character for most of both novellas, with interludes in "The Jack of Spades" from Momos and "The Decorator" from The Decorator himself.
  • Outlaw Couple: Momos and Mimi
  • Playing Card Motifs: Momos goes into a prolonged Internal Monologue about the symbolism of the nickname he picked for himself.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Izhitzov, who decides that The Decorator must be a Tatar Muslim or a Jew (a "Yid"). 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.
  • Serial Killer: The Decorator, a deranged murderer.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: A hallmark of the Fandorin series, this time happening all in one book! Tulipov, Fandorin's bumbling assistant introduced in "The Jack of Spades", is killed off in "The Decorator".
  • Switching P.O.V.: The Jack of Spades switches POV chapters between Tulipov and Momos. The Decorator is mostly Tulipov, with some bits from The Decorator himself, until the book cycles through several POV characters towards the end.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Fandorin towards Momos
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: The Decorator. Also, Momos, when not in disguise, looks very plain and unremarkable.
  • They Were Holding You Back: The Decorator tries to do this to Fandorin and his loved ones but thankfully fails.
  • Title Drop: Fandorin's job title is Deputy for Special Assignments.
  • The Watson: Although Fandorin the character was obviously inspired by Sherlock Holmes (with a large dose of James Bond added), this is the only book where he has a Watson. (Masa is more of an enforcer). Tulipov is the sycophantic assistant who serves as a sounding board for his master's deductions but never figures anything out on his own.
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