Author: Anton Chekhov
Translated by Peter Sekirin.
ISBN: 978-1-933648-86-6

Click Here To Purchase A Night in the Cemetery: And Other Stories of Crime and Suspense

In 1886, celebrated Russian author Dmitry Grigorovich wrote a letter to the 26 year-old Anton Chekov, complimenting the young author on his talent and advising him to slow down and concentrate on the quality of his writing.

Chekov – a physician and part-time writer who was then making more money by writing than by practicing medicine -- was thunderstruck by the weight of the compliment and admitted that he had previously written his stories in a mechanical fashion, like that of a dispassionate journalist rather than an emotionally involved writer. The young doctor/writer took Grigorovich’s advice seriously and the following year he won the coveted Russian Pushkin Prize for his collection of short stories, “At Dusk.” He went on to become one of Imperial Russia’s most celebrated writers.

The journalistic tone of Chekhov’s pre-fame stories – many of them murder mysteries -- is completely understandable when one considers that for a time, Chekhov worked for the police as a medic in criminal investigations.  However, the tone of these early stories featured in “A Night in the Cemetery,” collected and translated by Russian scholar, Peter Sekirin, is anything but serious.

For instance, one tale takes readers on an elaborate search for a murder victim only to discover the victim alive and well at the end of the tale. Another portrays a prosecuting attorney who “was like many of his kind: he spoke nasally, could not pronounce the letter “k” and blew his nose constantly.” He was no match for the skilled defense attorney in the story whose “kind . . . plays a key role in those cheap novels that end in a guilty verdict for the protagonist and the applause of the public.” The skilled defense attorney so powerfully plays at the emotions of an entire courtroom regarding the “humanity” of the accused man that the accused jumps up and confesses his guilt.

Many of the stories are obviously just writing exercises or sketches, yet even these are often well-crafted and hilarious in a wry, Chekovian sort of way.  The initial paragraph of “What You Usually Find in Novels,” a sketch which barely fills two pages, reads:  “A duke, a duchess who used to be a beautiful woman, a rich man who lives next door, a left-wing novelist, and impoverished nobleman, a foreign musician, various servants: butlers, nurses, and tutors, a German estate manager, a gentleman, and an heir from America.”

The last paragraph is significantly shorter: “Seven moral sins at the beginning, a crime in the middle, and a wedding at the end.”

The stories collected in A Night in the Cemetery aren’t necessarily the work of a master craftsmen but it’s obvious that their author was well on his way to becoming just that. This collection is a fascinating read to anyone interested in the evolution of a literary master and also provides a close-up (if extremely wry) glimpse of Imperial Russia.

 Click Here To Purchase A Night in the Cemetery: And Other Stories of Crime and Suspense