It was the autumn of 2005. The London weather was crisply cool and I was on my weekly pilgrimage to the five-storey Waterstones at Piccadilly. Scouring the first floor bookshelves for my next fix in detective fiction, I didn’t have to look too far, stopping, as with many romances, at a beautiful spine.

Right there, under A, was the author’s intriguing handle. Akunin – Boris Akunin. (Only later did I discover that his real name was Grigory Chkhartishvili.) Perfectly placed among the elegant typefaces, the little black and white photograph gravely stared back at me.

The title said, The Winter Queen. It was the only book on that shelf that looked like a yellowing, ancient family photograph. I pulled it out with great care, even though it was brand new. And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Here’s why.

The books, especially those released by Phoenix, are works of art

The cover was an exquisitely laid out photomontage evoking the nineteenth century in its illustrative flourishes and elegant typefaces, purposely made to look antiqued, and yet it was very much a book of the twenty-first century in its production values. The synopsis on the back cover was part historical adventure, part pastiche. Erast Fandorin – the name held promise. This book had to be bought.

A sticky protagonist

Every successful detective series needs a protagonist who sticks in the public memory and Erast Petrovich Fandorin did not disappoint. With his ridiculously good looks, his fluttering lashes, his blushing complexion, the air of grief about him and his keen interest in technology and Japan, he made legions of fans in his readers, many of whom are women.

In this first book, he is but an ingénue in the Moscow Police Department thrown into an inexplicable series of motiveless suicides. By the end of the story, the lowly clerk is a celebrated member of the force, but also touched by a tragedy that marks him with a stammer and an attractive pair of prematurely whitened sideburns.

I finished the first book and went back to Waterstones Piccadilly the Sunday after, picking up The Turkish Gambit and The Murder on The Leviathan, the subsequent books that had been published.

An arc through the sub-genres of detective fiction

A detective story fan himself, Boris Akunin had neatly classified the genre into sixteen sub types, aiming to take Erast Fandorin through one story of each sub-genre, tying up the series in sixteen books. If The Winter Queen was a conspiracy, then The Turkish Gambit was a brilliant pastiche of the spy novel and The Leviathan, a classic Agatha Christie rip off.

The next book, The Death of Achilles, would be an assassination-based thriller. Akunin explores a different sub-genre in each story as his hero gradually ages and first gains fame and professional acclaim, and then leaves it all to become a private detective in his later years.

The quality of the writing

What I enjoy the most is the unique voice – part classical novel, part smart imitation noir, and a joy to read for the pleasure of the language alone. Akunin had found a magical spot for his readers: a detective story written with classical aplomb. Maxim Jakubowski of The Guardian gushes, “Think Tolstoy writing James Bond with the logical rigour of Sherlock Holmes.” The books are very ably translated by Andrew Bromfield, retaining the gentle wit and the classical tone of the language.

The upcoming British TV series

Earlier in the year, Boris Akunin sold the film rights for Adventures of Erast Fandorin to a British TV channel for a series of films for television. The first one is slated to be The Death of Achilles, followed by The State Counsellor – a political intrigue – and then the cinematic The Coronation, which surely deserves an outing on the big screen as well. Akunin is said to be a big fan of British historical dramas, citing Downton Abbey and Hornblower as his favourites.

Not bad for a man who had started writing in the genre to please his wife, who had wanted crime stories but not pulp that she would need to cover with brown paper.