Home » Literary Life » Boris Akunin,The Winter Queen and the Isle of Dogs

Boris Akunin,The Winter Queen and the Isle of Dogs


Over the past year or so, I have tried to show that the Isle of Dogs although widely considered a bit of  literary wasteland  has featured in a number of works by  authors. Carol Rivers tends to base most of her novels on the Island and she is in a long line of writers who have featured this small piece of London in their writing.

However I have recently come across a book that surprisingly features the Island, why surprisingly ? because it was written by a Russian author Boris Akunin which is the pen name for Grigory Chkartishvili, a Russian writer, academic and translator.

The book is called the Winter Queen (although originally called Azazel in Russia) and features a young police detective called Erast Fandorin, the book first published in 1998 is incredibly popular in Russia where it has sold 15 million copies.

The Winter Queen is the first novel of the Erast Fandorin series of historical detective novels and is based in Moscow in the 1870s.  The story begins with the apparent suicide of  a wealthy university student,  he leaves his large fortune to the newly opened Moscow orphanage of Astair House, an international network of schools for orphan boys founded by an English noblewoman, Lady Astair.

The  open-and-shut suicide case is given to the  inexperienced 20-year-old detective Erast Fandorin who begins to suspect that things are not quite what they seem.

Fandorin begins to suspect that a glamorous femme fatale Amalia is involved and follows her to the Winter Queen Hotel in London. When he confronts her there is a struggle and his gun goes off and Amalia lies on the floor apparently dead.

Fandorin panics and runs away and finally ends up on the Isle of Dogs.

On the Isle of Dogs, in the maze of narrow streets behind Millwall Docks , night falls rapidly. Before you can so much as glance over your shoulder the twilight has thickened from grey to brown and one in every two or three of the sparse street lamps are already glowing . It is dirty and dismal , the Thames ladens the air with damp, the rubbish tips adding the scent of putrid decay. The streets are deserted , with the only life , both disreputable and dangerous, teeming around the shady pubs and cheap furnished lodgings.

It is safe to say that his first impressions were not great and the guesthouse he selects is not much better.

The rooms in the “Ferry Road” guesthouse are home to decommissioned sailors ,petty swindlers and ageing port trollops.

The landlord is known as Fat Hugh who is always on his guard because ” The clientele here is a mixed bunch and you never know what they might be getting up to.”


Ferry House Pub

Obviously the Ferry Road guesthouse is likely to based on the Ferry House pub, the oldest pub on the Island and already over a hundred years old even in 1876 when the story is based.

Fandorin lies low and consider what to do next , but things begin to move quickly, he is kidnapped and tied up in a sack and  dropped from a pier into the Thames. The ever resourceful Fandorin escapes and leaves the Isle of Dogs to return to Moscow.


Millwall Docks

Although there are mention of Millwall Docks and Ferry Road there are no other clues to other locations on the Island but that has not stopped fans of the book from making a pilgrimage to the Island to follow the footsteps of their fictional hero.

The book is an exciting adventure mystery and Fandorin a bit of a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones with a Russian twist, but the real mystery is why a Russian based author with no obvious connections to London would set part of his novel in a not widely known part of East London.




  1. lemons says:

    That’s interesting – all news to me (y)

  2. S says:

    Read the original ages ago but completely forgot about that bit in Azazel! Now that I’ve moved to the Island this article is of double the interest, so many thanks for it!

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