"An expression of extreme sadness appeared on the lieutenant's face."
Lieutenant Boruvka is a homicide detective in Prague; the twelve stories in this volume date from the mid-60s--it's still communist Czechoslovakia. Lt. Boruvka is saddened every time a death turns out to be a homicide--it's not always clear at first--and then is further saddened when he finds the crucial clue that tells him who the killer was.
The stories themselves are quite funny.
The stories nod to golden age detective fiction (and earlier). Holmes, C. Auguste Dupin, Dr. Thorndyke are all referenced. In one of the cases, Lt. Boruvka gets the needed clue from reading Ellery Queen's The Roman Hat Mystery. (Or maybe Skvorecky got the plot element he needed from Queen?) At one point Lt. Boruvka remarks about possible suspects with the murdered man's servant:
"He and Farina are the only two men in the whole house who can be taken into account because it certainly wasn't me."The major-domo coughed. He seemed to be offended."You don't regard me as a man, sir?""But of course I do," the lieutenant hurriedly covered up. "But in any decent murder case the murderer is never one of the servants. That simply isn't done."
Paging Mr. Van Dine! (See number 11.)
There are a few recurring characters. In the office there's Sergeant Malik, officious and a bit blood-thirsty and prone to miss the obvious; there's Constable Sintak, to whom "Lieutenant Boruvka was a wizard." And the beautiful policewoman Eva with her chignon. Lt. Boruvka's wife, and especially his daughter Zuzana, are important. A vacation promised to Zuzana means that two of the cases are set in Italy, where Lt. Boruvka stumbles into a couple of murders (and Zuzana is crucial to finding the solutions.)
There's a plot arc through most of the stories in which Lt. Boruvka is attracted to Eva; in one he's arranged to meet her at the Tomcat (!) Club for dinner and drinks and who knows what, when a couple of accidents drag him into a case in which he manages to prevent a murder only by standing up Eva. Saint Sidonius features in the case in a couple of ways, giving Lt. Boruvka, who's perfectly happy with the official state atheism of Czechoslovakia at the time, a moment of wonder. And keeping him from doing something he shouldn't...
A lot of fun.
Covering the Czech Republic for this years European Reading Challenge.