David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Karel Čapek’s “Tales from Two Pockets”

Karel Capek's 'Tales from Two Pockets'This book review was originally published in Publishers Weekly on June 20, 1994.

To call the forty-eight short stories of Karel Čapek collected and newly translated in Tales from Two Pockets among the greatest the mystery genre has ever produced only begins to tell the tale. For Čapek (War With the Newts), Czechoslovakia’s most intellectually piercing literary voice between the world wars, mastered the crafting of plot and evocation of suspense early on in the writing of the Tales and quickly vaulted to a philosophical height few in the genre aspire to. His stories deconstruct the very suppositions that make so-called crime fiction plausible by taking into question the smug reliance of the typical literary detective for the powers of deduction and the moral correctness of human judgment. Thus the title character of “The Adventures of a Breach-of-Promise Con Man” turns out to be a more honorable man than the detective chasing him; the man asked to judge the capital punishment of a murderess in “The Juror” discovers that his entire society is on trial; and in the book’s most surreal story, “The Last Judgment,” God himself leaves the eternal fate of a multiple murderer in the hands of a human court, claiming that “Because I know everything, I can’t possibly judge.” In their dissection of truth and the capacity for judgment, Čapek’s tales frequently eschew the traditional rules of the genre by not solving the dilemmas they present or by solving them incidentally without mystery. But the haunting, parable-like atmosphere of Tales from Two Pockets is more than enough license for such deviations.

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  1. edmalyn on January 29, 2012 at 6:13 am  Chain link

    what is the plot of the short story The last judgment by: Karel Capek?

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