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Special Assignments

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In Special Assignments, Erast Fandorin, nineteenth-century Russia's suavest sleuth, faces two formidable new foes: One steals outrageous sums of money, the other takes lives. The Jack of Spades is a civilized swindler who has conned thousands of rubles from Moscow's residents including Fandorin's own boss, Prince Dolgorukoi. To catch him, Fandorin and his new assistant, ti In Special Assignments, Erast Fandorin, nineteenth-century Russia's suavest sleuth, faces two formidable new foes: One steals outrageous sums of money, the other takes lives. The Jack of Spades is a civilized swindler who has conned thousands of rubles from Moscow's residents including Fandorin's own boss, Prince Dolgorukoi. To catch him, Fandorin and his new assistant, timid young policeman Anisii Tulipov, must don almost as many disguises as the grifter does himself. The Decorator is a different case altogether: A savage serial killer who believes he cleans the women he mutilates and takes his orders from on high, he must be given Fandorin's most serious attentions. Peopled by a rich cast of eccentric characters, and with plots that are as surprising as they are inventive, Special Assignments will delight Akunin's many fans, while challenging the gentleman sleuth's brilliant powers of detection.


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In Special Assignments, Erast Fandorin, nineteenth-century Russia's suavest sleuth, faces two formidable new foes: One steals outrageous sums of money, the other takes lives. The Jack of Spades is a civilized swindler who has conned thousands of rubles from Moscow's residents including Fandorin's own boss, Prince Dolgorukoi. To catch him, Fandorin and his new assistant, ti In Special Assignments, Erast Fandorin, nineteenth-century Russia's suavest sleuth, faces two formidable new foes: One steals outrageous sums of money, the other takes lives. The Jack of Spades is a civilized swindler who has conned thousands of rubles from Moscow's residents including Fandorin's own boss, Prince Dolgorukoi. To catch him, Fandorin and his new assistant, timid young policeman Anisii Tulipov, must don almost as many disguises as the grifter does himself. The Decorator is a different case altogether: A savage serial killer who believes he cleans the women he mutilates and takes his orders from on high, he must be given Fandorin's most serious attentions. Peopled by a rich cast of eccentric characters, and with plots that are as surprising as they are inventive, Special Assignments will delight Akunin's many fans, while challenging the gentleman sleuth's brilliant powers of detection.

30 review for Special Assignments

  1. 4 out of 5

    Glen

    Another good entry in the Erast Fandorin series. This book contains two stories. In both of them, there is an assistant, who is apparently going to be the permanent narrator from now on. The first story pits Fandorin against an ace con man, who has been duping people out of their money for ages. This is a fun story from beginning to end, with both Fandorin and the con man trying to dupe one another in a game of human chess. The second story concerns Jack The Ripper moving to Russia. I didn't like Another good entry in the Erast Fandorin series. This book contains two stories. In both of them, there is an assistant, who is apparently going to be the permanent narrator from now on. The first story pits Fandorin against an ace con man, who has been duping people out of their money for ages. This is a fun story from beginning to end, with both Fandorin and the con man trying to dupe one another in a game of human chess. The second story concerns Jack The Ripper moving to Russia. I didn't like this one as much, as the author really doesn't seem to know overly much about Jack. Still, a very entertaining book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Assaph Mehr

    Two novellas bound in one, both telling of Fandorin's work on behalf of Moscow city. In The Jack of Spades Fandorin is first assisting his patron - Prince Dolgurukoi, governor of Moscow - against some con-men, and is then being subjected to a con himself. As most con-type stories, the tone is light. The Decorator is a dark and disturbing tale of a serial killer. Expect lots of gore as Fandorin delves into the darkest sides of humanity. What to Expect Each novel is written as a different type of myst Two novellas bound in one, both telling of Fandorin's work on behalf of Moscow city. In The Jack of Spades Fandorin is first assisting his patron - Prince Dolgurukoi, governor of Moscow - against some con-men, and is then being subjected to a con himself. As most con-type stories, the tone is light. The Decorator is a dark and disturbing tale of a serial killer. Expect lots of gore as Fandorin delves into the darkest sides of humanity. What to Expect Each novel is written as a different type of mystery. Akunin set out to rectify the low-brow reputation of the mystery genre in post-USSR Russia by writing worthy literature and exploring the wide gamut of sub-genres. Each novel is therefore excellently written as a different type of detective case. While there is continuity in the protagonist's life between the novels, each is very different in themes and tones. I've written a condensed review of the whole series on my website. What I liked I like the writing style. The prose is intelligent and flowing, the mysteries are complex, and the cast is varied (though those that make repeat appearances tend to die). Fandorin himself is a great character, even though as a main character he still remains an enigma - a tantalising mystery in itself that keeps readers engaged and clamouring to know more. I love the historical background. Akunin has done his research into Russian culture, mannerisms, environment, personalities, etc. of the late 19th century / early 20th century. Most of the stories take place around Moscow, and Fandorin gets to meet and associate with the people of the times (from the low-life criminals of Khitrovka, to the grand-dukes of the imperial family). In a few cases, Akunin also has Fandorin active around notable events of the era, at times filling in details where history has left us stumped. Akunin is also a Japanophile, and has Fandorin spend a few years in Japan. While details are sketchy (and we want more! More!), it is clear that he has a great love and deep knowledge of that culture and times. What to be aware of Be aware that each of the novel is told in a different style. Besides the obvious (something new and different in each volume), one keyword  is 'told'. They are almost all in 3rd person perspective, and quite often not from the point of view of Erast Fandorin (which is both tantalising and frustrating at times). It's this distance that keeps Fandorin an enigma, and keeps us coming back to learn more. Fandorin has a Sherlockian intellect and impressive physical prowess. He is not without his faults (most notably hubris), but as a hero he is certainly a cut above the rest. He also tends to get involved with a different femme fatale in each book. This suits the detective genre perfectly, regardless of modern sensibilities. While the books are not really related and have few continuing characters, I'd still strongly recommend to read them in order. Lastly, and this has nothing to do with Fandorin, since these are professional translations (amazingly done by Andrew Bromfield) via a traditional publisher, the price of ebooks and hardcovers is almost the same. The ebooks are also missing some of the illustrations and other typographical effects that are present in the print. I'd definitely recommend reading the print edition, where possible. Summary Should you read these novels? Yes! By all means, if you love historical mysteries these novels are a must read. It is an intelligent, engaging, and just different enough series to be in a class of its own. It's not surprising that in his home country of Russia, Akunin out-sells JK Rowling. In fact, since it's been a few years since I've read them, I think I'll go back and re-read my favourites (Winter Queen, State Counsellor, and The Coronation). -- Assaph Mehr, author of Murder In Absentia: A story of Togas, Daggers, and Magic - for lovers of Ancient Rome, Murder Mysteries, and Urban Fantasy.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kateryna Krotova

    I can’t stop to love Boris Akunin’s books. Sometimes more series you read, more boring to read them. But it is not about his books! This book is divided into two separate novels: First one is about Jack of Spades - a con man. Who was enough brave to rob Erast Fandorin himself! This book was really fun to read. Although I don’t really understand, why Fandorin let him free.. The second one is called The Decorator - it is about Jack the Ripper. Famous British serial killer.. that happened to be Rus I can’t stop to love Boris Akunin’s books. Sometimes more series you read, more boring to read them. But it is not about his books! This book is divided into two separate novels: First one is about Jack of Spades - a con man. Who was enough brave to rob Erast Fandorin himself! This book was really fun to read. Although I don’t really understand, why Fandorin let him free.. The second one is called The Decorator - it is about Jack the Ripper. Famous British serial killer.. that happened to be Russian psycho! This book is very grim and bloody.. And very sad.. But no matter what, it was pretty interesting to read it as well!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Melissa McShane

    This pair of novellas puts Erast Fandorin on the trail of two Jacks. In "The Jack of Spades," Fandorin pursues the titular character, an infamous con artist who's come to Moscow to fleece the public; in "The Decorator" Fandorin must track down none other than Jack the Ripper. "The Jack of Spades" is a good caper story. Momos, the Jack of Spades, is nearly as clever as Fandorin and has an excellent criminal mind. He cons Fandorin, Fandorin cons him, back and forth, and the ending is either unexpec This pair of novellas puts Erast Fandorin on the trail of two Jacks. In "The Jack of Spades," Fandorin pursues the titular character, an infamous con artist who's come to Moscow to fleece the public; in "The Decorator" Fandorin must track down none other than Jack the Ripper. "The Jack of Spades" is a good caper story. Momos, the Jack of Spades, is nearly as clever as Fandorin and has an excellent criminal mind. He cons Fandorin, Fandorin cons him, back and forth, and the ending is either unexpected or totally obvious, depending on how criminal your own mind is. I love young Anisii Tulipov. He's hapless and has enormous jughandle ears, but he's a decent assistant to Fandorin and a sweet kid. I was less happy with "The Decorator." It's bloodier than I expect from the Fandorin books, for one thing, and I'm not really a fan of Jack the Ripper stories, so I wasn't a good audience for it. Still, I appreciated Akunin's skill at using the sections from the Ripper's POV as clues in the mystery, and he had a crucial moment of misdirection at the very end that I liked. What I didn't like was (view spoiler)[HE KILLED TULIPOV WHY WHY WHY?! Sure, it makes everything matter more when characters we love die, but there's got to be a limit sometime. (hide spoiler)] So the collection gets a solid 4 stars on average.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Anastasija

    Akunin’s “Fandorin adventures” is a perfect choice if you are: a) a real detective lover b) admirer of classic Russian literature. In his novels Akunin depicts Russia (and not only Russia) at the end of XIX- beginning of the XX centuries where a brilliant detective, heartbreaker and admirer of Japanese philosophy Erast Fandorin elegantly solves the cruelest and trickiest crimes, getting acquainted with the members of Romanov dynasty, Ottoman pasha, Japanese ninja, most notorious criminals and mo Akunin’s “Fandorin adventures” is a perfect choice if you are: a) a real detective lover b) admirer of classic Russian literature. In his novels Akunin depicts Russia (and not only Russia) at the end of XIX- beginning of the XX centuries where a brilliant detective, heartbreaker and admirer of Japanese philosophy Erast Fandorin elegantly solves the cruelest and trickiest crimes, getting acquainted with the members of Romanov dynasty, Ottoman pasha, Japanese ninja, most notorious criminals and most beautiful women. The style of Akunin mysteries will remind you of classic XIX century Russian literature as well as Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day” or Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express”. “Special Assighments” is the fifth book of Fandorin adventures. It includes two novellas – “The Jack of Spades” and “The Decorator”. The first takes place mostly during the Maslenitsa week – the last week before Great Lent and reflects the general atmosphere of fun and celebrations that take place during Maslenitsa time. “The Decorator” is probably the darkest and grimiest among all Fandorin stories with Jack the Ripper coming on the scene…

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ensiform

    The fifth Inspector Fandorin mystery, this one is two chronologically sequential novellas. In the first, a mysterious con artist nicknamed the Jack of Spades is embarrassing the higher ups in Moscow, particularly Prince Dologorukoi, who dispatches Fandorin to set an elaborate con of his own to catch the swindler. This book also introduces a new assistant for the inspector, the desperately eager to please Anisii Tulipov, a sort of comic relief figure. With improbable disguises galore, full of the The fifth Inspector Fandorin mystery, this one is two chronologically sequential novellas. In the first, a mysterious con artist nicknamed the Jack of Spades is embarrassing the higher ups in Moscow, particularly Prince Dologorukoi, who dispatches Fandorin to set an elaborate con of his own to catch the swindler. This book also introduces a new assistant for the inspector, the desperately eager to please Anisii Tulipov, a sort of comic relief figure. With improbable disguises galore, full of the twists and turns in fortune that are the hallmarks of this series, this is a rather light-hearted episode in Fandorin's life. The next section, "The Decorator," takes a decidedly more grim turn, as Jack the Ripper comes to Moscow, leaving brutal death in his wake. Not only streetwalkers, but, as the police close in on him, police agents, including poor Tulipov and his harmless family, are murdered in the nastiest way possible. Akunin takes up narration from the Ripper's point of view at times – he thinks of himself as the Decorator, for he makes the beautiful ugly by revealing their God-given organs to the world – and it is chilling how disturbed, how implacable in his own twisted logic, Akunin makes him. The cat and mouse game of trying to catch the killer is again full of the ups and downs, the nearly-there moments, and the Pyrrhic victories that make this series so suspenseful and exciting. It’s admirable, in fact, how Akunin is able to make his hero preternaturally lucky, devilishly handsome, physically implacable, and mentally superhuman, and yet match him with rogues and villains who stymie him at nearly every turn. This series continues to be a joy to read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    This book is actually 2 novellas, if you will, containing two different stories. In story #1, "The Jack of Spades," Fandorin is up against a clever con man whose calling card is the jack of spades. He leaves it behind when he has pulled off a very successful swindle, and things come to a head when an Englishman is swindled out of a huge amount of money that the government must repay. Enter our hero and his new assistant, Tulipov. This one was pretty light hearted and very enjoyable to read. Stor This book is actually 2 novellas, if you will, containing two different stories. In story #1, "The Jack of Spades," Fandorin is up against a clever con man whose calling card is the jack of spades. He leaves it behind when he has pulled off a very successful swindle, and things come to a head when an Englishman is swindled out of a huge amount of money that the government must repay. Enter our hero and his new assistant, Tulipov. This one was pretty light hearted and very enjoyable to read. Story #2 is entitled "The Decorator," and Erast finds himself embroiled in a series of Jack the Ripper-type slayings in the world of prostitutes. This one is much more serious a read, but still a total delight to watch Fandorin at work. Very, very good, and fans of Erast Fandorin will definitely not be disappointed. One could read this before the other books in the series, but my opinion is that starting with the first and moving on will only help you understand Fandorin's character better. Very well written and I highly recommend it to those who like mysteries set in a historical time period or place, or to those who have been following the series all along. I had to send to the UK for mine some time back, because I couldn't wait to read it. I guess I'll do the same in January when #6 comes out!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Well, I was almost sorry to get to the end of this book, because it means the end of the Erast Fandorin mysteries, at least until any more of the Russian versions get translated into English. In this final English installment of the Moscow special investigator, we get two novellas. The first, "Jack of Spades," involves Fandorin with a master con artist, and it has a lighter touch than many of the other mysteries -- more humor, and in some ways, Fandorin's most worthy opponent. The second, "The Dec Well, I was almost sorry to get to the end of this book, because it means the end of the Erast Fandorin mysteries, at least until any more of the Russian versions get translated into English. In this final English installment of the Moscow special investigator, we get two novellas. The first, "Jack of Spades," involves Fandorin with a master con artist, and it has a lighter touch than many of the other mysteries -- more humor, and in some ways, Fandorin's most worthy opponent. The second, "The Decorator," is a reworking, and an expansion, of the Jack the Ripper story. Think that has been done to death? Not if the Ripper was a Russian who returned to his native land to continue his eviscerations. Will Fandorin catch him? And who else will die in the process? I understand Akunin has now moved on to a mysteries series featuring a nun who discovers her answers despite bumbling about, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to make that transfer of affections yet. This has been a good summer series: I highly commend it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ilan Sinai

    2 short novels. As usual sweet candy. Not too heavy. Good mystery and great ideas. Light read. Nice

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tocotin

    This is the first book from Akunin I've read and I really liked it. Usually I can't bring myself to read English translations from Russian - I don't know, there's something missing in them, I think it's the innate humor of the Russian language - but this translation was very good and read really smoothly. I didn't know what to expect, since all I knew about Fandorin was that he's a fan of things Japanese, has a Japanese servant and is good at martial arts - but the most entertaining feature of th This is the first book from Akunin I've read and I really liked it. Usually I can't bring myself to read English translations from Russian - I don't know, there's something missing in them, I think it's the innate humor of the Russian language - but this translation was very good and read really smoothly. I didn't know what to expect, since all I knew about Fandorin was that he's a fan of things Japanese, has a Japanese servant and is good at martial arts - but the most entertaining feature of the book was the atmosphere of the 19-th century Russia, with all the props: champagne! bears! pancakes! hotel rooms full of exotic plants and gaslights! honest Orthodox people with their good-natured lamentations and exclamations! I can imagine this might become irritating in the long run, but I haven't read anything Russian for quite a while, so I just devoured this stuff. The book consists of two long novellas, and I definitely liked the first one better. Would like to read another one in this vein; the second story was also good, but less taut and less enjoyable, especially towards the end. The resolution, given what must have happened to lead to it, was unsatisfactory to me. I'd definitely read more of this series. Too bad that getting cheap books in Russian - indeed, nearly any books apart from classics - is nigh impossible here in Japan. Oh well. Maybe later.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    I came to this having read five or six other Fandorin mysteries previously, so you can tell that I'm a fan. This book didn't disappoint - if you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing that you will like. The book is actually two stories, one about a fraudster, the other about a serial killer. The link between the two is that we are introduced to Anissii Tulipov, Fandorin's first ever assistant. Or at least the first one he hires, I think. And the first story is basically told th I came to this having read five or six other Fandorin mysteries previously, so you can tell that I'm a fan. This book didn't disappoint - if you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing that you will like. The book is actually two stories, one about a fraudster, the other about a serial killer. The link between the two is that we are introduced to Anissii Tulipov, Fandorin's first ever assistant. Or at least the first one he hires, I think. And the first story is basically told through his eyes. Apart from this twist, we get all the Fandorin favourites - Masa his Japanese valet/factotum, his unstable love life, Prince Yuri Dolgorukii, and lots of colour about life in Moscow at the turn of the 19th century. Akunin doesn't play too much with his format, which is wise in my opinion, and this book won't disappoint people who are already fans of Fandorin, and would not be a bad starting point for a newcomer to the books - there's certainly no need to have read any of the previous works. And in a way, the fact that we first see Fandorin through Anissii's eyes is a good introduction for a newcomer.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bibliophile

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Special Assignments consists of two novellas - The Jack of Spades and The Decorator. The first is a lighthearted and quite delightful romp narrated alternately by a con artist named Momus (who even manages to trick Fandorin at one point) and by Fandorin's newest assistant, Anisii Tulipov. (I also love the veiled little allusion to the famous poem by Pushkin and opera by Tchaikovsky, "The Queen of Spades.") The Decorator, in contrast, is a much more heavy-handed and depressing way to have Fandori Special Assignments consists of two novellas - The Jack of Spades and The Decorator. The first is a lighthearted and quite delightful romp narrated alternately by a con artist named Momus (who even manages to trick Fandorin at one point) and by Fandorin's newest assistant, Anisii Tulipov. (I also love the veiled little allusion to the famous poem by Pushkin and opera by Tchaikovsky, "The Queen of Spades.") The Decorator, in contrast, is a much more heavy-handed and depressing way to have Fandorin "solve" the mystery of Jack the Ripper (who apparently headed to Moscow after finishing his work in England.) Besides the aforementioned depression (a character whom I liked very much is brutally murdered by Jack the Ripper), I found the solution of the crimes deeply unconvincing, and this story is the reason I only gave the collection three stars, though I'd give The Jack of Spades five.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Boris Akunin writes historical thrillers set in Imperialist Moscow and is the pseudonym of Grigory Chkhartishvili (an academic in his other life). I've read every English translation so far in his "Erast Fandorin" series, and every one is fantastic escapist literature. The characters are a bit over the top (as they should be) and the historical detail is rich. The writing is much better than the kind of blockbuster brain candy you get in most thrillers; they go down easy, but you don't feel stup Boris Akunin writes historical thrillers set in Imperialist Moscow and is the pseudonym of Grigory Chkhartishvili (an academic in his other life). I've read every English translation so far in his "Erast Fandorin" series, and every one is fantastic escapist literature. The characters are a bit over the top (as they should be) and the historical detail is rich. The writing is much better than the kind of blockbuster brain candy you get in most thrillers; they go down easy, but you don't feel stupider in the morning. Special Assignments introduces Anisii Tulipov as Fandorin's awkward and unlucky new assistant helping him out on two new cases: Jack of Spades, the devious con-man, and The Decorator, an Ivan the Ripper type serial killer. The book is like two fast-paced novels in one, both equally gripping and crafty.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lex Poot

    Delightful read. Though the second story was a bit too gory to my taste.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Branko Jovanovski

    The first story is a 3 at most, the second is 5 - one of the best Fandorin stories.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Golan Schzukin

    Another excellent one

  17. 5 out of 5

    Giulia

    I consider this book slightly out of the series canon because they're two short stories about Fandorin in his time as Collegiate Counsellor. Overall, I enjoyed the varied and fast-paced nature of all the Fandorin mysteries, and so am happy to keep reading the series. These two interludes were mainly for my amusement and to learn a bit more about the characters in question. The mysteries themselves were amusing - The Decorator was rather grotesque but as someone who is quite squeamish, I think the I consider this book slightly out of the series canon because they're two short stories about Fandorin in his time as Collegiate Counsellor. Overall, I enjoyed the varied and fast-paced nature of all the Fandorin mysteries, and so am happy to keep reading the series. These two interludes were mainly for my amusement and to learn a bit more about the characters in question. The mysteries themselves were amusing - The Decorator was rather grotesque but as someone who is quite squeamish, I think the writing handled it well. And I really thought I was going to guess who had done it in this short story but I was wrong again! The Jack of Spades was good entertainment as well, especially since the good and bad weren't so clear cut. In fact, in both stories Erast surprised us with his new understanding of justice! I associate him with the good detective trope, always following the law to a letter but in these stories, he shows he is capable of more nuanced judgements. Also, I really liked Anisii as a character - seeing Fandorin from someone else's eyes is always a good trick. Finally, something that I don't think is talked a lot about is Fandorin's love life. We're introduced to two ladies in these two stories; the countess and Angelina, both who live with him but are not married to him (the former was in fact already married). Again, I associated Fandorin with being the upright, prim and proper gentleman, so I was pretty shocked to learn about these living arrangements. It felt totally out of character with the Fandorin I knew (especially because I loved Varya and him in the Turkish Gambit), and it really threw me off the story. I thought perhaps there was some sort of secret mission he couldn't reveal as to why they were living with him, but it never gets addressed. Especially at the end of The Decorator, Angelina and him are obviously romantically linked. I wish we delved more into this part of his life but alas!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Laura Edwards

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This is really two stories in one book, "The Jack of Spades" and "The Decorator". So, I guess the double dip is one positive. I have to give Boris Akunin credit for attempting an ambitious spin to this series by writing in a different mystery genre for each book. These two stories represented "comical adventure" and "gory thriller". The best part of these entries for me was the introduction of Anisii Tulipov as Erast Fandorin's assistant (which also becomes a negative in the second story as you This is really two stories in one book, "The Jack of Spades" and "The Decorator". So, I guess the double dip is one positive. I have to give Boris Akunin credit for attempting an ambitious spin to this series by writing in a different mystery genre for each book. These two stories represented "comical adventure" and "gory thriller". The best part of these entries for me was the introduction of Anisii Tulipov as Erast Fandorin's assistant (which also becomes a negative in the second story as you will see later in this review). First, the "Jack of Spades". This story was a straight three. The biggest plus was Tulipov. I liked the idea of an assistant helping Fandorin and Tulipov's character was a perfect foil to Fandorin's brilliance and supposed perfection. I also liked Tulipov's backstory and the fact he was diligent in taking care of his special needs sister. The negative for me was I just don't think Akunin pulled off the comical aspects very well. Another negative. Fandorin was foiled time and time again by the Jack of Spades. In fact, he doesn't even catch him in the end. "The Decorator" was more a 2.5, maybe because I don't really like gory thrillers. And Akunin certainly got the gory part down very well. Two things I didn't like (aside from the gory thriller aspect). I think the fact Tulipov's sister was going to become a victim of the serial killer was telegraphed way ahead of time. Of course, I wasn't expecting the demise of Tulipov himself which was the biggest problem I had with this story. I was looking forward to seeing him paired up with Fandorin from here on out and I was left very disappointed at the end. We'll see if Mr. Akunin does better in his next attempt, a political mystery.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ostap Bender

    Two Erast Fandorin mysteries for the price of one. In the first our hero is tasked with tracking down the “Jack of Spades”, a con man adept at disguising himself and his female assistant to bilk people out of their money via various schemes. In the second, “The Decorator” is a brutal serial killer of prostitutes who lays out the internal organs of his victims after murdering them, an act he views as “making them beautiful” before sending their souls off to God. In both stories, Fandorin is joine Two Erast Fandorin mysteries for the price of one. In the first our hero is tasked with tracking down the “Jack of Spades”, a con man adept at disguising himself and his female assistant to bilk people out of their money via various schemes. In the second, “The Decorator” is a brutal serial killer of prostitutes who lays out the internal organs of his victims after murdering them, an act he views as “making them beautiful” before sending their souls off to God. In both stories, Fandorin is joined by Anisii Tulipov, an assistant he grooms after transferring him out of a miserable job. Tulipov shows immediate promise and also provides some comic relief, such as when he’s subjected to electric shocks to the crotch during undercover work early on. Fandorin is likable – tough, smart, a ladies man and imminently self-assured, but at the same time, honest and kind. The stories are taut and move along well. His adversaries not only match wits with him but also turn on him and his loved ones, presenting an additional element of danger to the reader. The stories are shocking at times in the violence of the murders, and also in the plot twists – a couple of things in “The Decorator” (and its ending) were quite surprising to me. I can’t say that I see how it would be possible for a reader to figure out whodunit in that case, but then again this isn’t my usual genre and I’m a fairly simple reader. My only real knock on the book is its occasional anti-semitic reference; these are of course true to the period as anyone who has read 19th century fiction (Russian or otherwise) can attest, but this would have been nice to leave in the 19th century, and not carry forward as Akunin sometimes does. Overall, though – entertaining and fun reading. Quotes; just a couple: On getting used to pain: “’Working in a graveyard, you need a callous heart,’ he said in his quiet voice, with a compassionate glance at the exhausted Tulipov. ‘Any folk will grow sick and weary if he’s shown his own end every day: Look there, servant of God, you’ll be rotting just like that. But the Lord is merciful. He gives the digger calluses on his hand so he won’t wear the flesh down to the bone, and them as is faced with human woes, he gives them calluses on their hearts, too. So as their hearts won’t get worn away. You’ll get used to it, too, mister.’” On listening: “Listening properly was a kind of art. You had to imagine that you were an empty bottle, a transparent vessel connected with the person you were talking to via an invisible tube, and let the contents of the other person flow into you a drop at a time, so that you were filled with liquid that was the same color and strength, the same composition. To stop being yourself for a while and become him. And then you would come to understand that person’s essential being, and you would know in advance what he was going to say and what he was going to do.”

  20. 5 out of 5

    Darrell Woods

    Special Assignments, or Fandorin 5, provides us faithful readers with two tales for the price of one. In the former, we are on the trail of a wily trickster/conman - think Oceans11, with charm, front and disguise put to good effect, usually against bad Uns who arguably had it coming.... the second is a sequel of sorts to the Jack the Ripper tale - a monster now unleashed in Moscow. Splitting the book into two might not work but here it is cleverly handled to contrast the two scenarios. There is Special Assignments, or Fandorin 5, provides us faithful readers with two tales for the price of one. In the former, we are on the trail of a wily trickster/conman - think Oceans11, with charm, front and disguise put to good effect, usually against bad Uns who arguably had it coming.... the second is a sequel of sorts to the Jack the Ripper tale - a monster now unleashed in Moscow. Splitting the book into two might not work but here it is cleverly handled to contrast the two scenarios. There is humour and even slapstick in the Jack of Spades story... in The Dresser all is darkness horror and death. In both, the State is in a panic, petty officialdom desperate for results. Fandorin's own story moves along too and while you trust in his skills, both adversaries in their own way are truly formidable. As always the book rattles along. One gripe would be the lack of a map/locations that are criss-crossed in the investigation since the street names don't mean anything to me. Another good read then and still more to explore.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tina Tamman

    If you have never read Akunin, nothing in my view beats "The Winter Queen" - very much recommended. His detective, Erast Fandorin, is there very young and gauche, preoccupied with a male corset, an item of clothing that adds an unexpected dimension to the story. And the story is good; it even has a discernible moral core. In this particular volume, however, Fandorin is middle-aged and so the stories are different, no longer about his youth and inexperience. And that is a pity. Reading the book m If you have never read Akunin, nothing in my view beats "The Winter Queen" - very much recommended. His detective, Erast Fandorin, is there very young and gauche, preoccupied with a male corset, an item of clothing that adds an unexpected dimension to the story. And the story is good; it even has a discernible moral core. In this particular volume, however, Fandorin is middle-aged and so the stories are different, no longer about his youth and inexperience. And that is a pity. Reading the book made me feel that Akunin just can't stop writing because he has this cash cow to milk. All the same, I do enjoy the way he writes (if not so much the stories). The volume I read is in Russian, not my first language, but he does have a good turn of phrase. The most attractive thing about the author, however, is his sense of humour. His writing is all tongue in cheek and he very obviously enjoys it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kiersten

    What the...? First of all, this wasn't one book, it was very clearly two separate books sharing the same cover. The first was fine--a little light and fluffy but entertaining. The second, however, went to a really dark place and was honestly just a bit too much for me. And I also don't feel like it was well crafted as a mystery/detective novel. The best in this genre unspool the mystery slowly, giving the reader just enough clues to keep them headed in the right direction while also employing a What the...? First of all, this wasn't one book, it was very clearly two separate books sharing the same cover. The first was fine--a little light and fluffy but entertaining. The second, however, went to a really dark place and was honestly just a bit too much for me. And I also don't feel like it was well crafted as a mystery/detective novel. The best in this genre unspool the mystery slowly, giving the reader just enough clues to keep them headed in the right direction while also employing a few red herrings and plot twists so that the reveal at the end is still exciting. Reading the second book in this...book, "The Decorator" was like wading through a dump truck full of red herrings and then being shoved off a cliff at the end.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Robert Hepple

    First published in Russian in 1999, and subsequently translated into English in 2006, 'Special Assignments' consists of two novellas featuring sleuth Erast Fandorin in Moscow of the late 19th century. The first novella, 'The Jack of Spades', has Fandorin pursuing a high profile con-man, whilst the second tale 'The Decorator' sees him trying to track down a serial killer. The humorous flamboyant style of the first tale is well and truly at odds with the style of the second tale - a little unsettl First published in Russian in 1999, and subsequently translated into English in 2006, 'Special Assignments' consists of two novellas featuring sleuth Erast Fandorin in Moscow of the late 19th century. The first novella, 'The Jack of Spades', has Fandorin pursuing a high profile con-man, whilst the second tale 'The Decorator' sees him trying to track down a serial killer. The humorous flamboyant style of the first tale is well and truly at odds with the style of the second tale - a little unsettling. If you try and look past that, the individual tales are well worth the read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    Another outstanding book by Broisk Akunin, I started reading him several years ago and I'm not sure why I stopped (probably because there was nothing else being published at that time). This is a worthy read with homages to Arthur Conan Doyle, Dostoevsky and probably others that I have not noticed. Two excellent stories that will satisfy the crime thriller readers all set in pre-revolutionary Russia. Hugely enjoyable and recommended. Another outstanding book by Broisk Akunin, I started reading him several years ago and I'm not sure why I stopped (probably because there was nothing else being published at that time). This is a worthy read with homages to Arthur Conan Doyle, Dostoevsky and probably others that I have not noticed. Two excellent stories that will satisfy the crime thriller readers all set in pre-revolutionary Russia. Hugely enjoyable and recommended.

  25. 5 out of 5

    David Bosley

    As detectives go, Boris Akunin's Fandorin is great fun to read. He is unpredictable, eccentric, not afraid of direct action when necessary, but also has quite a few little grey cells to help solve his cases. The context is Moscow in the 1880's and that just adds a bit of cultural and historical interest to the books. Although even Fandorin can make mistakes... This is the fifth book in the series. As detectives go, Boris Akunin's Fandorin is great fun to read. He is unpredictable, eccentric, not afraid of direct action when necessary, but also has quite a few little grey cells to help solve his cases. The context is Moscow in the 1880's and that just adds a bit of cultural and historical interest to the books. Although even Fandorin can make mistakes... This is the fifth book in the series.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    Whether it was my lowered expectations or my mood or the book itself, I was pleasantly surprised by this 5th book in the Erast Fandorin series. The book consisted of two loosely connected novellas: "The Jack of Spades" and "The Decorator". In both of these, Fandorin is joined by Anisii Tulipov - a character I much enjoyed. Of the 2 novellas, I preferred the first one which was clever and humorous. The second story was much darker and more shocking. Whether it was my lowered expectations or my mood or the book itself, I was pleasantly surprised by this 5th book in the Erast Fandorin series. The book consisted of two loosely connected novellas: "The Jack of Spades" and "The Decorator". In both of these, Fandorin is joined by Anisii Tulipov - a character I much enjoyed. Of the 2 novellas, I preferred the first one which was clever and humorous. The second story was much darker and more shocking.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chaya

    This seemed like two books combined awkwardly into one- the first half was an interesting character-driven story, like the previous 4 Erast Fandorin mysteries, and the second half was a needlessly gory mishmash that left me completely uninterested in who the murderer was. Guess it's no loss that this is the last book in the series that is translated into English. This seemed like two books combined awkwardly into one- the first half was an interesting character-driven story, like the previous 4 Erast Fandorin mysteries, and the second half was a needlessly gory mishmash that left me completely uninterested in who the murderer was. Guess it's no loss that this is the last book in the series that is translated into English.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sienna

    Continuing my murder mystery tour of the world... What a fabulous, fascinating mind! Usually mysteries are like candy for me but Akunin's stories always take me a while to get into -- then full, delighted, immersion. Completely unfamiliar! Glimpses of the various viewpoints of Akunin's characters, transport me to an age & culture, a mindset, that is nothing like what I know. Continuing my murder mystery tour of the world... What a fabulous, fascinating mind! Usually mysteries are like candy for me but Akunin's stories always take me a while to get into -- then full, delighted, immersion. Completely unfamiliar! Glimpses of the various viewpoints of Akunin's characters, transport me to an age & culture, a mindset, that is nothing like what I know.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mats

    This was my first Erast Fandorin-book, and it most certainly won’t be my last. Akunin writes with immense flare - his descriptions makes you feel as though he’s lived alongside Petrovich in the 1880s. Not only is it a wonderful glimpse into Russian culture and society, but a glimpse into a different time. Absolutely worth a read!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ming Suan Ong

    So I did not realize this was really 2 novellas on different cases. I really enjoyed the first 2 books, didn’t quite get into this book as much. The first story was about a conman/master impersonator and wasn’t as interesting as the second one about a serial killer called the Decorator who kills to make ugly people beautiful as he brings their inside out. Hmmm, ok.

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