This is the concluding post on Josef Skvorecky’s Sins for Father Knox… (See Previous post for information about Skvorecky and Father Knox’s Decalogue, as well as comments on the first two stories)
‘Sin No. 3: The man Eve didn’t know from Adam’ opens with Eve and her friend Laura picnicking in Italy. During the picnic, they see a girl hitchhiker get a lift in a red car, driven by a man in white. On their trip home in their red car they are pulled in by a policeman accidently. It turns out only men driving red cars dressed in white were supposed to be pulled in. The hitchhiker has been murdered and one of the five men who have been detained is responsible for it. This story looks not only at themes relevant to crime detection such as the accuracy of witnesses, but also more wider themes such as unmarried couples living together and the value some men put on having a male heir. This tale departs from the third person narrative style used previously and is in the first person, which is potentially a clue to deciding which rule of Father’s Knox has been broken.
‘Sin No. 4: A Question of Alibis’: ‘Order anything you want, as much as you want. I’m picking up the tab. Because tonight I’m going to be murdered.’ This shocking statement is made by a Mr Jenson, to our recurring amateur sleuth, Eve Adam, who is now singing in Stockholm. And he was as good as his word, as shortly after returning to his hotel room Jensen is killed with a blow to the head. In this tale there is indeed a seemingly unbreakable alibi and even a map, although I think these can be regarded as smoke and mirrors and it’s the little details which help Eve, Zuzka and Detective Kolln (who are now married and living in Stockholm) discover the truth.
The fifth story is called ‘Why so many Shamuses?’ and is set in New York. The case revolves around three private detectives who have been murdered (one of whom Eve talked to in a club the previous night) and the murder of three others who were also at the club that night. My main problem with this story is how women are portrayed and the general power balance between Eve and the investigating office made me feel uncomfortable.
‘Miscarriage of justice’ is the 6th tale and the way Skvorecky breaks one of Knox’s rules is quite clever. It begins in an upstate New York airport where Eve, her uncle Bob, his wife and his daughter are waiting for his plane. Not only is the flight cancelled but a fire is seen from the airport. It’s Bob’s home which is on fire. Was it arson caused by a secret brotherhood, which Bob testified against? Was it an accident? Or was it insurance fraud as a way for Bob to resolve his money’s troubles?
Story number 7 in my opinion wins the medal for the most boring, whilst also being partially disturbing story in this collection and is titled ‘The Mathematicians of Grizzly Drive’. Eve’s social circle appears to have arisen whilst working in California and after a night of roulette in Marcus Twisten’s home it appears his niece has been kidnapped. Suspects include a man who is badly in debt and also a lovesick youth named Mr Snake. The solution to this mystery is lengthy involving the solving of an equation and many graphs. Not being mathematically minded this was very difficult reading and it is not hard to guess which of Knox’s rules is being broken.
Departing from America in the eighth story, ‘Sin No. 8 An Atlantic Romance,’ back to Europe, a man called Mr Fukuri appears to have gone overboard on Eve’s ship and not by accident. A prevalent theme which contributes to the solution of the crime is that the characters aboard the ship share about the suffering they encountered during WW2 such as experiences in concentration camps, Nazi experimentation and murdered relatives. The story is also reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (1934), where a previous crime affects many of the characters.
The ninth tale ‘Sin No. 9 Just between us girls’ was another story I found rather dull, narrated by Eve’s friend Zuzka involving the stabbing of a woman in Eve’s partisan flat. In the closing story of the collection: ‘Sin No. 10 Third Tip of the Triangle’ we return to Prague and Lieutenant Boruvka, who is worried about his teenage daughter who is pregnant. The murder victim this time is an engineer called Ludvik, who is found dead in his apartment the day after a party. The three main suspects are a psychiatrist, Irena, a friend of Boruvka’s daughter and a married woman Milena, who like Irena is very attracted to Ludvik. Eve’s inclusion in the story is rather forced and her basis for finding the killer not highly plausible. My main issue with this tale is how Skvorecky breaks the second rule of Knox’s Decalogue, as although I think he may have been trying to be clever and satirical, I think perhaps to a modern reader his explanation may be considered offensive.
I think overall, this was a disappointing collection of stories, as I enjoyed Skvorecky’s previous collection just featuring Lieutenant Boruvka in The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka (1966). I think the main problem was the use of Eve Adam as the central investigating force because she was not a character I could identify or engage with. Whilst 9 times out of 10 Skvorecky succeeds in breaking a rule in his stories, I’m not sure the experiment was entirely successful, as in breaking certain rules he fails to make his stories enjoyable to read at times such as stories 2 and 7. Another issue I had was the repetition of using cataphoric referencing to begin a story as Skvorecky in pretty much every tale begins with introducing the characters vaguely such ‘the blonde’ or ‘the man’ before revealing their identities. Although ordinarily this creates suspense and interest in a story, when it is repeated so much it becomes boring, dull and a drag.
Rating: 1/5 Though I would recommend checking out his first collection: The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka (1966).
A question of covers…
Considering how much Eve Adam features in the stories, in contrast to Lieutenant Boruvka who is in only two of them, she has yet to appear on the cover (to my knowledge) of any of the English editions, which seemed a little odd to me.