The State Counsellar
3 August, 2012
The State Counsellor by Boris Akunin is the sixth book in his popular historical mystery series featuring Erast Fandorin, the enigmatic Russian man-about-town and agent with his trusty Japanese servant Masa.
In his sixth book, Fandorin is framed for the murder of the hated General Khrapov who is on his way to Siberia. Knifed on a train, Fandorin is seen fleeing the scene and is promptly arrested as he goes to welcome the deceased general. When it turns out that the mysterious Combat Group is the culprit, Fandorin goes to Moscow to help the police and the secret service, the feared Okhranka, uncover the Combat Group and save Russia from anarchy.
But the Combat Group is led by the steely Mr. Green with vengeance burning in his heart. He sees the world through colours (synesthesia), his own personality turning a steely grey after spending his youth in prison for trying to save his Jewish family from persecution.
Green knew the English meaning of his alias, but he experienced his own colour differently. Everything in the world had a colour, every object and concept, every person – that was something Green had felt since he was a little child; it was one of the special things about him. For instance, the word ‘earth’ was a clay-brown colour, the word ‘apple’ was bright pink even for a green winter apple, ’empire’ was maroon, ‘father’ was a dense purple and ‘mother’ was crimson. Even the letters of the alphabet had their own coloration: ‘A’ was scarlett, ‘B’ was bright lemon-yellow, ‘C’ was pale yellow. Green made no attempt to analyse why for him the sound and meaning of a thing, a phenomenon or a person had these particular colours and no others – he simply took note of this information, and the information rarely misled him. The fact was that every colour also had is own secret meaning on a scale that was an integral, fundamental element of Green’s soul. Blue was doubt and unreliability, white was joy, red was sadness, and that made the Russian flag a strange combination: it had joy and sadness, both of them strangely equivocal. If the glow given off by a new acquaintance was blue, Green didn’t exactly regard him with overt mistrust, but he watched a person like that closely and assessed him with particular caution. And there was another thing: people were the only items in the whole of existence capable of changing their colour over time – as a result of their own actions, the company they kept and their age.
Green himself had once been sky-blue: soft, warm, amorphous. Later, when he decided to change himself, the sky-blue had faded and been gradually supplanted by an austere, limpid ash-grey. In time the once dominant light-blue tones had receded somewhere deep inside, reduced to secondary tints, and Green had become bright grey, like Damask steel – just as hard, supple, cold and resistant to rust.
I think of all the villains in Akunin’s series, Green is the most sympathetic. Although he is a cold-blooded killer hellbent on revenge, there is a suppressed emotional core that he can’t quite erase and this makes for some poignant reading.
I have a soft spot for stories featuring synesthesia as I too enjoy the same effects although mine is constrained to letters and numbers. It’s a pretty handy memory tool.
Russia is going through a tumultous period with seditious groups springing up everywhere protesting against bureaucracy, corruption, segregation and poverty. Akunin’s descriptions of the inner workings of a small rebel cell is interesting, especially discovering the world of collaborators from University lecturers to dissatisfied heiresses and double agents.
This was an thrilling episode in the series and I look forward to reading book number 7, The Coronation.