The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka
Chris Redmond is Director of Internal Communications at the University
Though they have at times a wry touch, these dozen detective stories are just a little old-fashioned, for which enthuasiasts of the genre may be grateful. Lieutenant Boruvka, of the Prague police, has more in common with Father Brown than with Inspector Maigret or some introspective Swedish sleuth.
Some of the old-fashioned flavour is the result of the stories’ origin: they are set, and were written, in Czechoslovakia of the early 1960s. An Eastern European stodginess is bound to result, and one is surprised and grateful for how little Communist jargon and totalitarian shadow the stories contain. Boruvka is a working policeman, following clues and dealing with colleagues on the force; except when he seeks a visa to take an Italian holiday, he encounters nothing of a political nature. In a majority of his cases, the crime’s motive has something to do with sex, and more than one of the stories is a classic locked-room puzzle.
The earlier stories in the collection stand alone, and are on the whole more successful. The later ones become episodic, as Boruvka deals with a music-loving teenage daughter, a pretty police stenographer, and the complications of his Italian trip. These latter tales do make the detective more human, and incidentally pave the way for future Boruvka books which the publisher has promised in English translation.
As Smutek porucika Boruvky, this collection appeared in Prague in 1966, two years before Josef Skvorecky left his homeland to settle in Toronto. The English translation — the uniformly successful work of Rosemary Kavan, Kaca Polackova and George Theiner — was published in England in 1973, but has not previously appeared in North America. It is probably too much to expect that an Eastern European detective will become the North American rage, but devotees of detective tales will appreciate the irony with which wise, unhappy Lieutenant Boruvka solves his almost classic puzzles.