Crime fiction for the journey to Odessa
by Kelvin Smith
The publisher in Chekhov’s early story wonders if readers of crime fiction are becoming bored by the formulaic plots on offer, and tells the budding author, Ivan Petrovich Kamyshev, so.
‘It’s not a question of truth…You don’t necessarily have to see something in order to describe it – that’s not important. The point is, for far too long now our poor readers have had their teeth set on edge by Gaboriau and Shklyarevsky. They’re sick and tired of all these mysterious murders, these detectives’ artful ruses, the phenomenal quick-wittedness of investigating magistrates.’
This story uses the plot device of narrator-as-murderer used by Agatha Christie in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd written 45 years later (a couple of years after The Shooting Party was first translated into English in 1926).
As the publisher discovers on reading the manuscript some months later on the train to Odessa, the text was certainly “worth reading“. It looks like Chekhov’s publisher may have been wrong in his initital estimation of the diminishing market for detective fiction.
Anton Chekhov, The Shooting Party, 1884-5