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.

6 Responses to “The State Counsellar”

  1. Danielle Says:

    I’ve only read the first Erast Fandorin book and that was a number of years ago. I only remember it being very quirky, but liking it for just that reason. I keep meaning to read more, but wonder if I should go back and reread the first book again (that then becomes a vicious cycle, though, as it will take me longer then to get to the next book…). Wasn’t one of the last Jaspe Fforde books about synesthesia?

    • sakura Says:

      Hello! Beware the vicious cycle;p I reckon you’ll be fine going on to the next one. I find that I like Akunin’s more and more with each one so I hope you do go back to them!

      Thank you for reminding me I need to read last year’s Thursday Next book! I can’t believe I’d forgotten and a new one is already out! Will go and check about the synesthesia:)

  2. Alex Says:

    I started this series in 2011 and look forward to the book ahead. Did you know that each in the series focuses on a different subgenre of the detective novel?

    • sakura Says:

      I saw Boris Akunin talk at Foyle’s last year where he explained how he approached writing each book and it was fascinating! Check out the link. I didn’t realise it before so I’m trying to be more vigilant when I read his books now. Akunin is such an interesting figure and I find his books readable and atmospheric.

  3. Kristen M. Says:

    This is a favorite series but they seem to have stopped releasing them in the US after the fifth book so I’m going to have to start buying UK versions, I guess. Fandorin is an amazing protagonist!

    • sakura Says:

      That’s a shame. I think they’ve given the series an overhaul here in the UK with new covers, etc. Hopefully they’ll do the same in the US too! There’s still enough mystery in Fandorin to make you want to know what makes him tick!

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