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Two Murders in My Double Life [Paperback]

Josef Skvorecky


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Book Description

April 18 2002
In Skvorecky`s first fictional work in English, the narrator lives with amused resignation in two worlds. His life with a group of his old friends, all exiles or emigres from the same country - "the country where we used to live" - is full of nostalgia, old feuds, loves, gossip, treacherous betrayals and friendships that have lasted through wars and revolutions. The narrator`s life is all the more poignantly steeped in the past because his wife, Sidonia, devotes all her energy, time and love to her publishing house and the publication of the suppressed literature of her native country. The narrator`s other, entirely separate, life is lived in the pleasant, pampered, fatuously self-congratulatory world of a modern Canadian university, a world in which grave attention is given to matters such as whether a certain male professor has left his office door wide open enough while interviewing a female student. Murder suddenly intrudes upon both of these worlds. The murder in the academic world is a parody of a detective novel. Cleverly mocking the jaunty insouciant tone of the genre, it features a beauty queen, professorial jealousies and a neat conclusion. The murder in the narrator`s other life is a tragedy, in which an evil web of lies works insidiously to entangle its victim. The shocking conclusion is anything but neat. This is a brilliantly stylish tour de force, in which the bright, sarcastic comedy of one tale sharply contrasts with the dark, elegiac bitterness of the other. A strikingly original book.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 183 pages
  • Publisher: Key Porter Books (April 18 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1552630218
  • ISBN-13: 978-1552630211
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 13.2 x 1.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 249 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #984,312 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

Two murders. Two crimes. Two worlds, interlocked. The husband of a math professor at a fictional Mississauga college is found murdered in his home on a stormy night straight out of stock horror-movie footage. The only clues: a piece of broken-off nail polish and a button ripped from a Harris tweed jacket. Meanwhile, the wife of an American Lit prof at the same campus slowly drinks herself to death after being outed as a collaborator under Czechoslovakia's former Communist regime. The first death serves as the premise of an entertaining, highly literary whodunit, which makes up half of Two Murders in My Double Life, Czech émigré Josef Skvorecky's first novel written in English. The tragic events of the second death, though, are told as old-fashioned realism, although North American readers not versed in the absurdities of Communism may find them surreal.

The link between the two stories is Skvorecky's fictional alter ego, Smiricky, the professor of American detective fiction whose wife, Sidonia, has been accused of collaboration. Smiricky hones his sleuthing skills as he observes the hunt for the murderer, which implicates a cast of characters out of an Agatha Christie novel, among them a descendant of Salem witch-burners, a scheming rich beauty, a rising math star, and a weight-obsessed policewoman. At the same time, though, he can only watch helplessly (and guiltily, when he realizes he was the unwitting catalyst in the ploy to coerce his wife into spying) as Sidonia, decorated for her tireless efforts in publishing émigré and banned books, is made a scapegoat by true criminals attempting to divert public attention from their own pasts. She is the victim of an "assassination of the soul," perpetrated by a regime whose tentacles reach beyond its national borders, even beyond its unnatural life.

As in his masterpieces, The Cowards and The Engineer of Human Souls, Skvorecky uses reality as inspiration to create a fictional world where the comic and the serious collide. The novel is a hilarious satire of Canadian academe plagued by petty professional rivalries and political correctness, a searing indictment of post-Communist political practices, and a bittersweet tragedy of the past's unrelenting grip on the present. --Diana Kuprel

From Publishers Weekly

Skvorecky left his native Czechoslovakia in 1969 in the wake of the Soviet invasion and has been living in Canadian exile ever since. For the last 30 years, he has published copiously in Czech and has fared well in English translation (The Cowards; The Engineer of Human Souls; etc.). Now in his 70s, he has written his first book in English an intermittently eloquent if not entirely persuasive fiction, part murder mystery and part campus novel. The protagonist is an unnamed Skvorecky-like professor in Canadian exile, whose wife, Sidonia, a writer and editor, is being cruelly slandered in the Czech Republic by resentful postcommunist climbers. Meanwhile, life on the Toronto campus is disrupted by an unlikely murder. Two radically dissimilar worlds are here juxtaposed and interwoven: Central Europe, with its ferociously bitter animosities and treacheries left over from the Soviet era; and bland, tidy, middle-class Canada. The account of the relentless hounding of Sidonia and her bitter end is almost unbearably poignant, but the dull mystery story does not hold up its end of the bargain. In addition, Skvorecky has perhaps gotten carried away with the mimicry of spoken English. He has the non-native speaker's joyful enthusiasm for the little quirks that make English idiomatic, but the impression created by the text is not one of authentic talk so much as relentless chatter. Still, the novel is notable for its evocation of the professor's enduring love and respect for his brilliant, long-suffering wife. (May)Forecast: Skvorecky treads familiar ground in his latest novel, but it's being written in English may spark more reviews than usual. A charming photograph of the author and his wife in their youth on the jacket may attract browsers.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
4.0 out of 5 stars A Low-key Academic Murder Mystery July 15 2012
By James W. Fonseca - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a low-key murder mystery featuring an older male Canadian college English professor. I say "low-key" because the professor never really sets out to solve the murder of a colleague's husband; he simply happens to notice conflicting stories told by the characters. It helps that he has quite an ear for hallway and academic party gossip. And it happens that the detective investigating the case is in his class, writing about the crime in one of her course papers. A second plot going on is that the professor and his wife emigrated from Czechoslovakia and recently she has been erroneously slandered as an informer on her former colleagues during their previous life under Communism. The immigrant Czechoslovakian press in Canada has picked up on this story from the press back in the homeland. The book is also about academic life in general. We learn that our main character is, let's face it, a crotchety old man who enjoys calling the young women "girls" when the political correctness police let their guard down. He also times the lengths of visits of female students to offices of his male colleagues. It's an interesting read but not a dynamic thriller.

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