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Cheery Old Crime-Infested Chekhov

We’ve been reading A Night in the Cemetery, and Other Stories of Crime and Suspense by the great Anton Chekhov… whom we didn’t know until just this minute wrote crime and suspense stories.

The preface to this new translation (by Peter Sekirin) points out that ghost and crime short stories were actually Chekhov’s first big thing, written and published while he studied medicine in Moscow in the 1880s.

(Those were the same years that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, fresh out of medical school, was writing his Sherlock Holmes stories, and about a dozen years before Somerset Maugham began writing stories while he was in medical school in London. They had a certain thing going back then.)

Chekhov is the right guy for your Halloween tale. He dishes up the dark humor like black sour cream on borscht. Here’s the opening of A Night at the Cemetery:

My story begins, as do most traditional well-written Russian stories, with the phrase ‘I was drunk that day.’

It happened after the New Year’s Eve party where I celebrated with one of my best friends, and I got as drunk as a fish. In my defense, I should say that I had a good reason for getting drunk on that night. I believe it is a worthy pursuit for people to feel happy on New Year’s Eve. Every coming year is as bad as the previous one, the only difference being that in most cases it is even worse.

I think that during our traditional New Year’s Eve parties people should fight, be miserable, cry, and attempt suicide. One must remember that each new year leads you closer to death, the bald spot on your head spreads, the wrinkles on your face grow deeper, your wife gets older, and with every new year you have more kids and less money.

Yeah! Sekirin notes that Chekhov was performing autopsies for the local cops at the time, giving his pen a certain authentic rigor mortis.

This little book is full of exasperated Russians, weary detectives, vodka-slurping sinners, missing corpses, and shaggy, howling dogs. Quite recommended.

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