8. Enter the Criminal

Anton Chekhov (1860–1904)
Polnoe sobranie sochinenii / Complete Works
St Petersburg: Izdanie A. F. Marksa, 1903–1918

Crime fiction, both domestic and international, was wildly popular in nineteenth-century Russia. One of the most important early Russian detective writers, Aleksandr Shkliarevskii, acknowledged the influence of Dostoevsky’s work on his own.

Even Chekhov, known best for his plays and short stories, wrote a crime novel. Drama na okhote, normally translated as The Shooting Party, opens in the office of a Moscow newspaper editor, who is visited by a charming man called Kamyshev. Kamyshev is a former provincial examining magistrate and offers the editor a real-life crime story. The text of Kamyshev’s story then follows. The novel’s closing scene sees the editor challenge, with fear and disgust, the identification of the killer in the story. The true murderer is sitting in front of him.

Shkliarevskii is mentioned several times in The Shooting Party. Kamyshev refers to him reverentially, but Chekhov humorously makes the editor refer to the public being sick of his work.

The image on display shows the stylised art nouveau cover of a 1911 volume containing The Shooting Party, part of a set of Chekhov’s works. In the bottom right-hand corner, the volume is advertised as being a free supplement to the paper Niva, a hugely popular illustrated magazine.

Mel Bach

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