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Newly translated stories by noted Czech author apek (1890-1938) use the mystery form to explore such issues as fate, mortality, and the nature of justice. Originally published in 1932, the book contains in its first half, ""Tales from One Pocket,"" traditional mysteries whose solutions often result from and comment on the quirks of human nature. In ""The Mystery of Handwriting,"" a man asks an expert to analyze the script of his wife of 20 years -- who is characterized on that basis as a dishonest, unpleasant, unsavory person. The husband later lambastes his spouse without explanation, but when he tells this story expecting sympathy, his listener asks why the wife's unforgivable flaws weren't apparent earlier. ""The Last Judgement"" shows God serving as a witness before a human jury and judge trying to determine where a dead man will spend eternity. The omniscient deity knows all the deceased's sins, and the accused is sent to Hell. The protagonist of ""The Poet"" gleans the clues necessary to track down a criminal by analyzing a verse composed at the crime scene. apek waxes more metaphysical and serious in ""Tales from the Other Pocket,"" the collection's second half. The narrator of ""The Man Who Could Not Sleep"" says of his nightly torment by painful memories, ""Sleep...forgives both us and those who trespass against us."" The protagonist of the volume's final story, ""The Last Things of Man,"" looks at himself in the mirror while experiencing great pain and sees his suffering as quintessentially human. Balancing satire with a provocative exploration of human hypocrisy and conscience, these tales exude a playful energy similar to that which empowered the Dada and Surrealist literary movements. apek offers both humor and insight to the reader who looks at the world with a jaundiced eye.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1994
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Catbird Press