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.