Finally, it can be told: the highly fictitious story of how an audacious criminal who did his level best to disrupt the coronation of Czar Nicholas II in 1896 was foiled by perennial agent Erast Petrovich Fandorin.
When Nicholas’ uncle Georgii Alexandrovich Romanov and his family arrive at the Small Hermitage in Moscow’s Neskuchny Park in preparation for the coronation, the family’s butler, Afanasii Stepanovich Ziukin, thinks his biggest problem will be deciding how to fit the whole household into a mere 18 rooms. More serious trouble promptly arrives during Afanasii’s walk around the grounds with Georgii’s daughter, 19-year-old Xenia Georgievna, and his youngest son, Mikhail Georgievich, 6, when they’re attacked by a gang of brigands obviously intent on abducting Xenia Georgievna. The girl is rescued by the unexpected and muscular intervention of Fandorin and his valet, Masa, but the kidnappers get away with Mikhail. A suavely menacing letter from Doctor Lind, a pseudonymous supercriminal whose activities Fandorin has long been familiar with, demands an outrageous ransom: the Orlov, the largest diamond in the royal scepter. Since the absence of the stone would surely be noticed during the coronation, plunging the dynasty into unfathomable chaos, Fandorin proposes paying Doctor Lind a series of lesser ransoms every day for a week in hopes of gathering more information about his operation in the meantime. Lind accepts the plan, and the game of cat and mouse is on between two world-class antagonists who are both clever, resourceful, and well-stocked with backup plans. Fandorin recruits the butler and Emilie Declique, Mikhail’s governess, to help him foil Lind’s plot. But Lind has many more accomplices and no scruples about killing anyone who stands in his way. Nor is he distracted, as Afanasii is dismayed to see Fandorin is, by an utterly inappropriate attraction to Xenia Georgievna.
Just when you think you know what’s coming next, Akunin, the most audacious author of historical mysteries (The State Counsellor, 2017, etc.) in the business, shows that he’s way ahead of you. Like-minded readers who can get past all those royal patronymics are in for a treat.