(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Boris Akunin, whose books have sold more than 15 million copies, is unique among Russian-language mystery authors because of his appeal to a mass readership, both in Russia, where he has lived since 1958, and overseas. Observers have attributed this success to the emergence of a large Russian middle class, eager for good books, following the demise of the communist regime. Akunin guessed, correctly, that the transition would create a demand for a genre that had not existed in the Soviet Union—a middle ground between high literature and whodunit fiction. His chief series character, Erast Petrovich Fandorin, is athletic and elegant like James Bond and cerebral like Sherlock Holmes, with additional overtones of Leo Tolstoy’s Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky in Anna Karenina (1875-1877; English translation, 1886). The nineteenth century Fandorin arouses nostalgia for the late czarist era, doomed though that period was.

Keenly sensitive to the concerns of the reading public, Akunin has declared his goal to be to entertain and enlighten the middle-class professionals emerging in twenty-first century Russia. The stylistic clarity and multilayered organization of Akunin’s novels have raised the tone of popular Russian literature. His new literature serves as a model for what he perceives to be the new Russian character. As he sees it, the emerging Russian middle class has an abundance of energy and goodwill but needs guideposts of all sorts—literary and aesthetic, moral and ethical—as well as the quality entertainment that was denied its members in the Soviet era. These are the contributions Akunin has sought to make—thus far with enormous success—through his writing.

Boris Akunin Bibliography

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Akunin, Boris. “The Bookish Detective.” The Bookseller 5110 (January 9, 2004): 32. Interview in which Akunin discusses his reasons for using his novels to create “a kind of encyclopedia of different subgenres of the crime novel” and the love of the grand nineteenth century literary style that led him to set his Erast Fandorin tales in that period.

Babich, Dmitry. “The Return of Patriotism?” Russia Profile 2, no. 6 (July, 2005): 34-35. Examines the dilemma of secret agents who, like Erast Fandorin, strive to serve their countries while avoiding complicity with unprincipled government officials.

Baraban, Elena V. “A Country Resembling Russia: The Use of History in Boris Akunin’s Detective Novels.” Slavic and East European Journal 48, no. 3 (Fall, 2004): 396-420. Describes Akunin’s historical mysteries as a phenomenon of the search for a Russian national identity.

Finn, Peter. “A Case of Crime and Reward: Mystery Writer a Star in Russia.” Washington Post, April 23, 2006, p. A15. Explains Akunin’s success as a balance between authorial professionalism and a lighthearted approach to his subject.

Khagi, Sofya. “Boris Akunin and Retro Mode in Contemporary Russian Culture.” Toronto Slavic Quarterly 18 (Fall, 2006). Analyzes Akunin’s work in the light of worldwide literary nostalgia, on which cultural studies have become increasingly focused. Considers the Nicholas Fandorin character’s postmodernist perspective as a foil to that of historical Russian figures.

Klioutchkine, Konstantine. “Boris Akunin.” In Dictionary of Literary Biography: Russian Writers Since 1980. Boulder, Colo.: Gale Group, 2004. Provides biographical information and a critical survey of Akunin’s work to 2004. Describes how Akunin’s establishment of a middle ground between highbrow literature and pulp fiction led to his own success and to new opportunities for other Russian-language authors.

Parthé, Kathleen. Russia’s Dangerous Texts: Politics Between the Lines. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2005. This book by a professor of Russian analyzes the historical influence of Russian literature in shaping national identity and explores post-Soviet changes in Russian literary tradition including the discouragement of “junk reading.”