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Literature / He Lover of Death

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He Lover of Death (Любовник смерти, "Lover of Death") is a 2001 Russian novel by Boris Akunin. It is the ninth novel in the Erast Fandorin series of mysteries.

It is the year 1900 in Moscow—the same time and place setting as Fandorin #8, She Lover of Death. Senka is an orphaned boy who is scratching out a hard living in the slums of Khitrovka. He has escaped from an abusive uncle and is now serving with a local Khitrovka crime boss, the Prince. Both Senka and the Prince have fallen for a woman called "Death", a mysterious young lady whose lovers all seem to meet violent ends.

Meanwhile, Senka has found a remarkable treasure, a buried cache of silver ingots. And to make things even more complicated, there is a Serial Killer stalking the Khitrovka slums. That serial killer is being hunted by—Erast Petrovich Fandorin, who takes an interest in little Senka.


  • Autocannibalism: According to the other mooks, the Prince once force-fed a rival his own ears.
  • Ax-Crazy: Deadeye, who sometimes comes completely unhinged and lashes out with murderous violence. The Prince's youngest gang member tells Senka that while the Prince never hesitates to murder people, at least the victim always knows why, which can't always be said of Deadeye's victims.
  • Bittersweet Ending: As happens many times in the Fandorin series. Fandorin succeeds in getting all the bad guys to massacre each other, and Senka is rescued from the Khitrovka slums and gets a new life as Fandorin's assistant and mechanic. But they are both grieving at the end because Death chose death, rather than choosing to leave with Senka and Fandorin.
  • Call-Back: Fandorin angrily denounces femme fatales, saying they toy with people like a cat with a mouse. "And when he said that Erast Petrovich was really angry, not like himself at all, as if he'd really suffered at the hands of these infernal women and they'd torn his life apart." This is a reference to Amalia, the Femme Fatale of Fandorin novel #1, The Winter Queen, who did in fact tear Fandorin's life apart and was a Karma Houdini to boot.
  • Call-Forward: "Soon n-nobody will want to use horses for p-pulling their carriages."
  • Cartwright Curse: How "Death" got her nickname. Her first lover was killed in a carriage accident, her second lover died of a stroke, and her third lover died of cancer. Then once she started dating hoodlums, one was killed by his own men and one was killed by the Moscow cops.
  • Chalk Outline: Maybe they did this for real in 1900 Moscow?
    "On the ground by the door there was a rough outline of a human figure, not a very good likeness, and beside it there was a dark patch. Blood, Senka guessed, and shuddered."
  • Cool Car: Fandorin's little three-wheeled horseless carriage, which is of his own design.
  • Evil Uncle: The uncle who took Senka in after Senka's parents died of cholera starves him and beats him.
  • Eye Remember: A serial killer punctured eyes of his victims to defy this trope. Fandorin told the cop that it is a superstition. Then Fandorin understood that the killer is a cop because he stopped to puncture the eyes.
  • Femme Fatale: Fandorin uses this exact phrase to describe Death, who manipulates various hoodlums for her own ends. He later discovers that he was wrong about her and her motives.
  • Hero of Another Story: This novel and the previous Fandorin novel, She Lover of Death, are two separate investigations being pursued by Fandorin at the same time. In this book Senka, who's following Fandorin, observes a meeting between Fandorin and Columbine previously described in She Lover of Death. Readers learn that the climax of this novel comes immediately after the previous one—Fandorin is without his gun for the big confrontation in this book because he lost it confronting the Big Bad of She Lover of Death. And it seems apparent that the "female companion" riding along in the Moscow-to-Paris race with Fandorin and Senka is Columbine.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Tashka is a child prostitute, who views Senka as her True Companion and is willing to sacrifice her life for him.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: A variation, as chapter titles are all in the format "How Senka __".
  • No One Should Survive That!: Death's body shows incredible physical resilience, having survived multiple accidents and suicide attempts that, by all measures, should have killed her in the backstory — in fact, before her current moniker, she actually briefly went by the nickname "Zhivaya" (Russian for "survivor, alive one, living one"). At the end of the novel, Senka remembers this fact as he watches her suffer for over an hour before expiring from a lethal stab wound.
  • Playing Card Motifs: 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. This has some basis in fact: "shesterka" (the card six) is a fenya term for "stooge, lackey, expendable man".
  • Respected by the Respected: Senka watches the ineffectual dandy he robbed earlier casually grill the huge constable who is keeping the entire Wretched Hive of Khitrovka in terror, and realizes just how deep in trouble he is when the constable displays nothing but head-bowing humility in front of him. The "dandy", of course, is Fandorin.
  • Street Urchin: Senka struggling to survive in the slums of Moscow.
  • Summation Gathering: Played with. Fandorin arranges a standard Summation Gathering in which he reveals who the murderer is. But his real purpose is to get all the bad guys together so they can kill each other.
  • Thieves' Cant: A "gull" is a passerby whose pocket can be picked, a "beaver" is a drunkard who can be robbed. "Sufoeno", or "one of us" backwards, is a password.
    Since olden times the bandits and thieves in Moscow had always mangled the language, so outsiders wouldn't understand: they added bits onto words or swapped them around, or thought up other tricks.
  • Translation Train Wreck: Andrew Bromfield's otherwise elegant translations adopted some awkward titles for the eighth and ninth books. The original Russian titles directly translate to Mistress of Death and Lover of Death, respectively. However in English they were published with the awkward titles She Lover of Death and He Lover of Death. The text itself, while generally well-translated, is sometimes messed up as well.
  • Wicked Cultured: Deadeye, the knife-thrower and "wet work" murderer, has a fancy vocabulary and likes to quote Pushkin.
  • Wretched Hive: Khitrovka, which was in those days and for quite some time thereafter a crime-ridden, horribly poor slum.