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Literature / The State Counsellor

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The State Counsellor (Статский советник) is a Russian detective novel from 2000, written by Boris Akunin. It is the sixth novel in the Erast Fandorin series of detective stories.

The book is set in Moscow in 1891, two years after the events of the previous Fandorin novel, Special Assignments. The story opens with an assassin from the "Combat Group", a left-wing terrorist organization, disguising himself as Erast Petrovich Fandorin and using this disguise to assassinate Khrapov, the newly-designated governor of Siberia. The real Fandorin, who has been promoted to State Counsellor and is still serving as deputy for "special assignments" to Moscow governor Prince Dolgurukoi, is tasked with catching the killer and wiping out the Combat Group. He finds himself opposed by Mr. Green, the assassin, and a determined, remorseless enemy. Worse, there may be someone in the government working against him.

In 2005 a big-budget Russian film adaptation was released, directed by Filipp Yankovsky, starring Oleg Menshikov as Fandorin and Nikita Mikhalkov as Pozharsky.


  • Agent Provocateur: Contains enough of these to make Erast Fandorin swear he'll never take political cases again.
  • Animal Metaphor: Needle compares her romance with Mr. Green to a picture of two giraffes she once saw, where the animals were depicted as awkwardly clueless on how to express affection for each other.
  • Anti-Villain: Mr. Green and the other terrorists of the Combat Group, conducting a campaign of violence against a brutal and tyrannical Russian state. Green became a terrorist after his Jewish family was expelled from Moscow and the Jewish settlement they were sent to was wrecked in a pogrom.
  • Bathhouse Blitz: Erast Fandorin is holding a secret meeting with his new boss in a public bathhouse when a group of revolutionaries tries to assassinate them both. Fandorin escapes by climbing onto the roof and using his ninja skills to jump down to safety, while his boss darts out through the women's section, turning the female bathers' fury onto his pursuers.
  • Betrayal by Inaction: Fandorin seems to make a deal with the Big Bad, where they both agree to not interfere with each other. However, Fandorin knows something that could save the villain's life and, by not revealing it to him, betrays their deal and has him killed indirectly.
    • Exact Words: Fandorin was given a choice to step aside and do nothing. He did exactly that.
  • 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.
  • Call-Back:
    • Fandorin, annoyed at Pozkarsky's skills, considers that this is the second time he's met a detective that is better than he is—but that he doesn't like to remember the first. That's a reference to Brilling from the first Fandorin novel, The Winter Queen, who turned out to be a Detective Mole.
    • Fandorin is said to be living on the estate of Baron Evert-Kolokoltsev. That's another call back to The Winter Queen, and the man who became Fandorin's father-in-law.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Revolutionary terrorist Mr. Green doesn't mind killing cops and government officials, but refused to kill a servant, since cops and officials were considered enemies of the people by the revolutionaries while servants were treated like "the oppressed class."
  • False Reassurance: The Big 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 the Big Bad's life.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: All the men at Prince Dolgorukoi's reception goggle at Esfir when she shows up in a cleavage-baring dress.
  • Karmic Death: Pozharsky gets blown up by Needle.
  • La Résistance: The "Combat Group" and other revolutionaries. Notably, the revolution is portrayed in slightly gray shades here.
  • Manipulative Bastard: The Big Bad turns out to be Pozharsky, who essentially created the Combat Group and nursed it along and steered it into eliminating his enemies, only for Pozharsky to crush it in the end and come out as the hero and get a big promotion.
  • Meaningful Name: Subverted with Mr Green; he's a synaesthesiac, so you might think he's called after the colour he perceives himself to be - but in fact he sees himself as grey, and his Nom de Guerre is just a contraction of his real surname Greenberg, as well as after Ignacy Hryniewiecki, the assassin of Tsar Alexander II, whose surname is written "Grinevitski" in Russian.
  • Miss Kitty: Julie, who doubles as both a High-Class Call Girl herself and the owner of a brothel. She is an invaluable source of intel for the Combat Group.
  • Mysterious Informant: "Diana" leaks the terrorist organisation's secrets to the police - or is it the other way around? - and attains a considerable influence over the heads of several police departments. She really likes to keep up the mysterious appearance - it helps her maintain her Femme Fatale reputation as well.
  • Mysterious Veil: Diana, the mysterious police informant, always appears to her visitors with a veil hiding her face—on the one hand, to protect her identity, but on the other, to hide the fact that she has a hideous facial deformity.
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: Lobastov, a rich industrialist sponsors the revolutionaries. When Green tries to thank him, Lobastov bluntly replies that he doesn't want the Combat Group to win; he is financing their operations for the government and the people to realize that The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized and that their best course of action is the sort of liberal capitalistic reforms that Lobastov supports.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: In the opening scene Khrapov is being sent off to be governor of Siberia after an incident in which he ordered a 17-year-old female prisoner flogged, which lead to the prisoner hanging herself.
  • Rebellious Princess: And one who's very serious about it. Needle, the hard-core revolutionary, turns out to be a countess.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: Esfir eventually gets Fandorin to admit (if only half-jokingly) that the bomb-throwing leftists of the Combat Group, and other revolutionaries, are better people than all the idiots, reactionaries, and anti-Semites in the government.
    Fandorin: Russia's eternal misfortune. Everything in it is topsy-turvy. Good is defended by fools and scoundrels, evil is served by martyrs and heroes.
    • The Combat Group is remembered favorably again by Masa in a late spin-off Simply Masa, taking place 30 years later. He calls them "beautiful people".
  • Shout-Out: When Pozharsky introduces himself, he takes the Mickey out of the Moscow staff by quoting The Inspector General .
  • Snow Means Death: The first paragraph describes the icy snowbound steppe the train is going through as "Nothing but snow, nothing but the wild whistling of the wind, the low, murky sky—darkness, cold, and death." Sure enough, Khrapov gets murdered at the end of the first chapter.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Anti-Villains Mr. Green and Needle, who fall in love, but are committed to their revolution.
  • State Sec: Two rival branches of State Sec in the form of the Special Corps of Gendarmes and the Department of Security, aka the Okhrana. Fandorin, who heretofore has been involved in straightforward criminal investigations, is grossed out by the Okhrana and the whole concept of State Sec.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Alternates chapters between Fandorin and Green.
  • Taking You with Me: Played straight with Needle blowing herself (and mortally wounded Green) up, taking Manipulative Bastard Prince Pozharsky with them.
  • Together in Death: Mr. Green and Needle, when she detonates the bomb.
  • Villain Opening Scene: Starts with Mr. Green murdering Adjutant General Khrapov.

Tropes found in the 2005 film:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: In the book, a disgusted Fandorin refuses the offer of a job as Moscow chief of police and quits government service. (Forever, as it turns out.) In the film, however, Prince Dolgurokoi's old servant talks him into it, and he changes his mind and accepts.
  • Affably Evil: Pozharsky is much more ingratiating in the screenplay.
  • Chekhov's Gun: An actual gun, in the case of the little pistol that Pozharsky has spring-loaded inside his sleeve, as he brags about when demonstrating it to Fandorin. He uses it to shoot Green at the climax.
  • Crashing Through the Harem: While Fandorin heads for the roof after the Combat Group enters the bath house, Pozharsky runs through the women's bath room. All the naked ladies rising up in protest wind up obstructing Green and Pozharsky escapes.
  • Counting Bullets: Fandorin is chasing Rakhmet, Rakhmet is shooting at Fandorin as he runs away, and Fandorin is counting off the bullets out loud. When he reaches "seven", he calls out for Rakhmet to surrender. A moment later Fandorin succeeds in running him down.
  • Demoted to Extra: Masa, Fandorin's Japanese valet and a major character, is reduced to a background character in the film.
  • Fanservice: Esfir's toplessness in her post-coital scene with Fandorin.
  • Roof Hopping: Fandorin escapes from the Combat Group by taking a running leap and jumping clear across a street from the bathhouse to the opposite building. Somewhat more realistic than in the book, where he simply jumps off the roof of the bathhouse, three stories up, and survives by landing in a snowdrift.