About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Miracle Game by Josef Skvorecky

This week the Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass, hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, moves into the Czech Republic. In searching for a mystery I came across The Miracle Game. It is a remarkable book with a mystery embedded in the plot.

49. – 609.) The Miracle Game by Josef Skvorecky  (1972) – The author knows how to capture a reader’s attention. It is 1949 in newly Communist Czechoslavkia. Skvorecky’s lead character, Daniel Smiricky is enduring a painful case of gonorrhea. Adding to the pain are the circumstances. He has just started teaching at a girls boarding school in the countryside. The healthy teenage students are eager to love the young male teacher and confused by his reluctance to accept their advances. Seeking to deflect their ardor, especially from the lovely but persistent Vixi, he asserts a belief in the principles of the Catholic faith. To demonstrate his faith he attends church.

Dozing in the chapel of the Virgin Mary under Mare’s Head Hill Smiricky misses a miracle during Mass. A wooden statute of St. Joseph, the father of Jesus, bows to the congregation. Local Communist authorities denounce and torture the parish priest and offer proof it was a hoax but there is evidence the Communists manufactured the evidence. Subsequently, there is evidence, also challenged, that the national secret police had set out to create a false miracle to discredit the Catholic Church. The plot periodically returns to the unconventional mystery. Was there a modern miracle or was the bowing faked?

The primary focus of the book is Smiricky’s life journey through the perils of Communist Czechoslovakia. The story abruptly shifts between the late 1940’s and the excitement of the reforms in the spring of 1968. Adding to the complexity are reminiscences going back into the Nazi years and forward into the 1950’s. The author’s skill makes it work but a reader must stay concentrated to follow the plot.

Smiricky is a skilled observer of his society. He carefully lives neither openly defiant nor totally submissive to the state. He writes operettas that do not offend the authorities. All words and actions are governed by what will be the reaction of the authorities. Every aspect of life is governed by Marxist dogma and analysis. He is a non-believer in any faith or ideology or philosophy. Would any of us be braver in the midst of tyranny? I doubt I would have had the courage to protest.

There are wonderful comic episodes describing the bizarre events that arise from the authorities applying political analysis to everything. To cope the people engage in devious subversions. The oral final examinations of the senior girl students descend into the absurd when the girls parrot answers on Social Welfare under Feudalism because the state has provided no text for the course. The examiners anticipate approved answers but are getting disturbed when girl after girl gives identically worded answers. Before the examiners can address the obviously rehearsed answers their focus is diverted by huge quantities of delicious food and powerful drinks served by the most beautiful graduates.

Plays are removed from a theatre repertoire because of inappropriate audience reaction to the plays. The audiences had not responded properly based on Marxist – Leninist principles.

Meetings assess what musical instruments can be played by considering whether the instruments conform with Communist principles. The saxophone is out of favour because it has a "hybrid, comospolitan, and decadent timbre". The violincello is suitable.

In his personal life he moves from affair to affair never committing to a relationship. He respects women and is far from celibate but he lives alone.

As the book moves through Prague Spring there is genuine uncertainty within the population on whether the giant to the East will tolerate this new Communism swiftly moving away from the traditional Soviet model.

My reading of the book was shaped by the book being written shortly after the Prague Spring of 1968 and translated during the collapse of Eastern European communism at the end of the 1980’s. As I read the book I kept thinking of those historical events.  It is not an easy read.

It is a thoughtful book well worth reading. I thank Kerrie for the Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass. I would not have read the book but for the meme.

On Tuesday I will add a further post related to The Miracle Game in which I discuss the process of book analysis in Communist times versus the book review blogs of today. (Sept. 10/11)


  1. Thanks for this Bill. What a good find

  2. This does sound a remarkable book - looking forward to reading your post tomorrow.

  3. A very iunteresting finding, Bill. Thanks for bringing this author to our attention. Sounds great your next post.

  4. Bill - Thanks for this review. This book sounds like a complex book that one reads and absorbs slowly, rather than a fast, action-filled "ride." Interesting and I look forward to your next post on it.

  5. Kerrie: Thanks for the comment. It is nice to have a good surprise in reading.

  6. Margaret: Thanks for commenting. It is a book making a reader think on different levels.

  7. Jose Ignacio: I find myself usually reading books because of the recommendations of bloggers and reviewers. To find a good book without a recommendation is no longer common for me.

  8. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I realize I usually move through mysteries quickly. The Miracle Game made me slow down.

  9. This sounds really good. Now I just have to find time to fit it in. It's amazing the books we wind up reading (and enjoying) because of our connections out here in the blogging world.

  10. Bev: Thanks for the comment. I also have a greater appreciation of the books of world because of bloggers.