For Pyotr Alexandrovich Kokorin, Monday, the 15th of May in the year 1876 is a good day to die. The fashionably dressed young swag, inheritor of an immense fortune, strolls through the lush thoroughfares of Moscow's Alexander Gardens, requests a kiss from a total stranger and, being rejected, pulls a small revolver from his pocket and dispatches himself before a crowd of horrified onlookers.

The event is written off by the police as an open-and-shut case: a bored young aristocrat played a game of roulette and lost. However, Xavier Grushin, detective superintendent of the Moscow Police, decides to use the event as a training exercise for his new clerk Erast Fandorin. Unwilling to dismiss the case as a mere suicide, Fandorin pursues leads ignored by his superiors and finds himself embroiled in intrigues of global proportions. The Winter Queen is the first of Russian author Boris Akunin's novels to be translated into English. All nine Erast Fandorin books have been bestsellers in Russia, where the series' popularity is described as Erastomania. Combining canny intuition, keen observation and dumb luck, Fandorin resembles a 19th century Russian amalgam of Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Samurai Jack.

Akunin writes in a charming, lyrical style that moves the story along briskly. American readers will find The Winter Queen deliciously nostalgic, distinctly Russian and surprisingly cosmopolitan in its appeal. Mike Parker is a writer in Nashville.

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