Today’s story is a bit longer at 7481 words. http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/014.html
The Swedish Match is written very much like a classic murder mystery story until Chekhov turns the plot convention on its head. I love the a sixty year old, cantankerous magistrate, Tchubikov, leading a murder investigation while maligning his harder working, more thorough twenty-six year old assistant, Dyukovsky. Anytime the assistant finds a clue or has a theory, it is immediately dismissed by his boss. But that never stops Dyukovsky from piecing together clues and suspects. It was funny that two of the suspects’ alibis for the night in question was drunkenness and they couldn’t remember a thing. Oh, Russians and their vodka. While I sympathized with Dyukovsky and appreciated his hard work, I had a problem with him immediately making every interviewee the pair interviewed a suspect in the plot to kill Mark Ivanitch. (And it seems citizens are guilty until proven innocent as two of the servants go to prison.) I thought Chekhov was being lazy by not introducing enough characters and giving red herrings, but as the story continues, the master writer knew what he was doing all along. Well done Chekhov.
We are definitely seeing a trend among the early Chekhov stories of over-reaction leading to unexpected consequences. This story is cast as another whodunit (see A Slander) but with a “murder” to solve. The overzealous powers of deduction displayed by the aspiring assistant to the magistrate, Dyukovsky, are reminiscent of what Sherlock Holmes would come to epitomize a few years later at the hand of another physician writer. The difference of course is Dyukovsky’s attempts were grounded in faulty assumptions. The irony is they eventually lead to the discovery of the “crime”. I enjoyed the story if only because you could see the train approaching and knew the end would live up to a blundering miscalculation. I’m sure there is also something to be said for how justice was delivered in Chekhov’s time. Assumptions, planted in the right mind, were enough to lead to accusations and convictions of the innocent. Of course, when the true “crime” was realized and the magistrate was made aware of his error, I doubt there were many consequences or apologies. I was also driven to a smile with how Chekhov chose to end the story with a final nod to false assumptions.