Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

Two Murders in My Double Life

by Josef Skvorecky

The narrator of Josef Skvorecky’s new novel is a professor at Edenvale College, a thinly disguised Erindale campus of the University of Toronto complete with a lecturer called Rosemary O’Sullivan. He is also a crime writer who offers a seminar course in crime writing, and an expatriate Czech whose alcoholic wife, Sidonia, runs a publishing house in Toronto for Czech writers once censored in their homeland. As such, he is the right one, in theory, to relate a tale of two murders – one literal, the other metaphorical. The problem with this roman à clef is in the telling – in its uneven scale and imbalanced registers.

The literal murder of Raymond Hammett (a double allusion) provides an opportunity for academic satire and parody of the whodunit genre. The sections that relate to this murder are amusing in their caricatures of a college beauty queen, an overweight suburban female police sergeant (named after Dorothy Sayers, no less), the pretentious windbag Professor James F. Cooper (the “F” does not stand for “Fenimore” but for a four-letter swear word), and another academic who struggles to find a convincing interpretation of the one-sentence chapter in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. But the tone is too lightweight to be cutting and too meagre to be tough. Skvorecky’s name-playing, frequent allusions to famous crime writers, and mocking recirculation of clichés are only fun for awhile.

The second layer of the novel is political satire on the murder of a nation’s soul. Resonant with echoes of Communist repression in Czechoslovakia, it is rather heavy-going. Sections on the state police and rigged political trials read like inferior Kafka, although Skvorecky’s attempt to adapt parody and satire to a new dimension is a worthy one. Simply put, the two interlocking movements never soar, and this novel does not belong in the company of Skvorecky’s major achievements.


Reviewer: Keith Garebian

Publisher: Key Porter Books


Price: $19.95

Page Count: 192 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55263-021-8

Released: May

Issue Date: 1999-3

Categories: Fiction: Novels