It is 1900 and the orphan Speedy Senka takes up with a Fagin-ish gang of amateur pickpockets in Moscow. Chance infatuation with a fallen beauty nicknamed Death lures Speedy into the hoodlum world of Death’s lover, The Prince, whose gang of psychopaths specialises in violent robbery with eye-gouging. Tipped off about a treasure hoard, Speedy locates the booty before his charmless colleagues, but finds himself hotly pursued.
Enter Fandorin, Akunin’s stuttering investigator, and his trusty Japanese sidekick, Masa. As in his previous outings (such as his dogged hunt for anarchist insurgents in Tsarist Russia in The State Counsellor), Fandorin’s sleuthing role is relatively modest. Here it seems low-key against the adrenalin charge of Speedy’s escapades.
Speedy is a marvellous creation, and Fandorin suitably opaque; the gangsters are variously grim and the aptly named femme fatale is a tidy piece of work.
He Lover of Death, by Boris Akunin, translated by Andrew Bromfield, Phoenix, RRP£7.99, 330 pages