This is the first book of a very popular Russian series which brought fame to its author Boris Akunin (real name Grigory Chkhartishvili). Boris Akunin considers mystery genre to consist of several sub-genres - his own classification; he wrote each book of the series in each sub-genre (conspiracy, spy, political, Agatha Christie-type, etc.) In the first book we are presented with a conspiracy mystery.
The main hero of the series is Erast Fandorin: a young man in 19th century Russian Empire; the first book takes place in 1876. A talented student from a wealthy family shot himself in a broad daylight which seems to be the obvious case of a suicide resulting from trivial reasons, but our hero is not satisfied with this conclusion. He starts digging deeper and eventually stumbles upon a vast conspiracy.
The book gives a depiction of Russian Empire at the turn of 19th century; I found the historical background to be excellent and Moscow feels really alive. As a mystery novel is fails on several accounts. A hero of a detective series can make it or break it. Consider the most famous detectives: Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Nero Wolfe, and others. All of them have very interesting and bright personalities. Erast Fandorin falls flat for me.
He is not that smart to begin with and he usually solves the mystery right after the solution practically jumps into his face; but I really need to cut him some slack here as this is his first case. So what does he have going for him? He is incredibly lucky; quite often an assassin sent to dispatch him stumbles in the very last moment, something falls on his/her head and so on. His luck extends to gambling: he never loses a game of cards or dice. To me this looks like a cheap trick to make up for his deficiency in 'grey cells' area.
Conclusion: 2 stars for mystery, 4 stars for historical background which makes up for 3 stars overall.
This review is a copy/paste on my BookLikes one: http://gene.booklikes.com/post/754063/a-first-book-of-a-very-popular-in-russia-detective-series-with-a-lucky-but-not-very-bright-hero