When “serious” writers dabble in suspense, the results tend to be hackneyed or pretentious — or both (remember Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance?). But Czech émigré Josef Skvorecky, author of the seriously beautiful The Bass Saxophone and the seriously funny The Engineer of Human Souls, is a bona fide mystery-lover, steeped in the classic whodunit literature. His short stories about a middle-aged Prague policeman — the mournful Lieutenant Boruvka — deliver old-fashioned clues and charm along with the distinctive Central European flavor (two parts sardonic politics, one part brooding psychology).
In The End of Lieutenant Boruvka, as usual, Lieutenant Boruvka uncovers guilt in high places and runs afoul of the powers that be: Communist Party bigwigs (a decadent lot), the local secret police, and even (circa 1968) the Soviet armed forces. He learns several sad things about anti-Semitism, government eaves-dropping, and the corruptibility of the masses. Worst of all, his strong-minded daughter, Zuzana, has fallen in love with a flaky American who’s sure to be deported. Nonetheless, Skvorecky gives even the gloomiest developments here a crisp, often droll, finish. So don’t let his credentials or the somber milieu put you off: Skvorecky the mystery writer is seriously, if quietly, entertaining. A-