Magazine article The Spectator

Pioneer in Whodunnit Country

Magazine article The Spectator

Pioneer in Whodunnit Country

Article excerpt

Pioneer in whodunnit country THE SHOOTING PARTY by Anton Chekhov translated by Ronald Wilks Penguin, £7.99, pp. 240, ISBN 0140448985

A crime novel by Chekhov? Professor John Sutherland positively chortles in the introduction at his readers' likely surprise. Indeed, any novel by Chekhov is probably news for those readers, and Sutherland, who delights in literary mysteries, waves in front of our eyes the date of the only previous translation: 1962. It was the date of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, whose sensational solution this novel anticipates.

And he has a point, even if he does refer to Hercule Poirot as an 'amateur sleuth': The Shooting Party is awash with tricks of the detective-story trade, then (1885) in its infancy. We have ominous peeps forward - with reference to a 'terrible disaster' to come, a 'presentiment of the imminent, inevitable denouement' and so on; we get the traditional reference to the 'stray tramp' who must have done the murder, and those radical misjudgments of characters and situations that are obvious to the reader but not to any character in the novel.

But there is a great chasm between Christie and Chekhov which is more notable than are the resemblances. Christie produces her solution at the end of Ackroyd with a flourish and forces her reader to go back over the text to see occasion after occasion when he has been fooled by a verbal ambiguity. Chekhov, on the other hand, signals his solution, especially by frequent footnotes signed A. C. which point to missing or erased sections of the manuscript, or by behaviour on the part of the narrator which is inconsistent with his role as investigating magistrate. By the time he produces the rabbit from the hat he has become a very familiar beast indeed. Not at all the practice of the other A. C.

But to dwell on the last, explicatory pages of the novel is to do it an injustice. …

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