By Tina Jordan
February 08, 2008 at 05:00 AM EST

Special Assignments

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Fans of Boris Akunin’s charming detective Erast Fandorin, the James Bond of 19th-century Russia, have not one book but two: novellas that could not be more different. In the light-hearted romp ”The Jack of Spades,” Fandorin and his sidekick, Anisii Tulipov, pursue a con man threatening the Royal Court. Then in ”The Decorator,” the two stalk a Jack the Ripper-ish serial killer who’s very intelligent and very, very sick, though Akunin tempers the grisliness with the sheer force of his storytelling. And as always, both stories in Special Assignments teem with eccentric, distinctly Russian characters. A

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