Two novella-length cases for Moscow investigator Erast Petrovich Fandorin, the Governor-General’s deputy for special assignments (Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog, 2007, etc.).
The first novella, “The Jack of Spades,” brings a world-class con man to Moscow. A master of disguise calling himself Momos has swindled the Governor-General himself, Prince Vladimir Andreevich Dolgorukoi, in a manner as ingenious as it is humiliating. Aided by pimply, unpromising police courier Anisii Tulipov, Court Counselor Fandorin takes the pursuit of Momos as his personal mission. He doesn’t know that Momos has developed an equally personal stake in fleecing Fandorin, or that the battle of wits won’t end when Momos and his accomplice, the lovely actress Mimi, have been captured. By the time of the second novella, “The Decorator,” Tulipov has been Fandorin’s assistant for three years. Holy Week of 1889 brings evidence that Jack the Ripper has left London after an eventful autumn season to ply his trade in Moscow. Before Fandorin can bring the shadowy killer to justice, he’s notched even more Russian victims than English, some of them disquietingly close to the Court Counselor.
The lighthearted opening tale is followed by a grisly sequel whose mutilations, many of them described from both the killer’s and the investigator’s viewpoints, give Patricia Cornwell a run for her money, though without throwing any definitive light on the real-life horrors that inspired them.