Tales From Two Pockets

By Karel Čapek

Translated by Norma Comrada


"One of the great works of the mystery genre. ...
These haunting, parable-like works reconfirm Čapek's standing as one of
Czechoslovakia's most intellectually piercing literary voices."
Publishers Weekly (starred review; named one of the Best Books of 1994)


"A tableau greater than the sum of its parts, one of intelligence and scope and wisdom.
And yet one never has the feeling of reading heavy literature.
The tales are light and fresh ... You can't go wrong with them."
—Bettina Drew, Chicago Tribune Books (front page review)


"Čapek's delightfully inventive tales ... stretch the detective story
to its limits and, in the process, tell us much about the mysteries of human existence."
—Katherine Ramsland, New York Times Book Review


A row of snowy footprints that stop suddenly in the middle of the street. A man who looks just a bit suspicious. Codes that need breaking, handwriting that needs analyzing, cards that need to be read. People willing to do anything to get their hands on an oriental rug, a flowering plant, a cactus, the truth. God acting as a witness while everyone from police officers to juries mete out justice. Crimes and puzzles, the ordinary and the extraordinary, humor and humanism. For the first time, English-language readers can now read all 48 of Karel Čapek's classic tales, all in a modern translation.

$14.95 paper, 365 pp., illus., ISBN 0-945774-25-7. Also available as an e-book.



Click here to read one of the Tales from Two Pockets,
a story that is a sketch for the third novel in Čapek's Three Novels.
Below is an excerpt from another story.


Excerpt from Tales From Two Pockets

"Mystery," he continued, seated in an easy chair and gazing thoughtfully at the snow melting off the toes of his boots.

"Ninety-nine people of a hundred would've passed by those footprints and never noticed a thing. And you yourself don't notice ninety-nine things out of a hundred that are damned mysterious. We're pig-ignorant about the things of this world. But some things aren't mysterious. Law and order isn't mysterious. Justice isn't mysterious. The police aren't mysterious, either. But every person walking along the street is a mystery, because we can't get at him, sir. As soon as he steals something, he stops being a mystery, because we lock him up and that's that. At least we know what he's doing, and any time we want, we can watch him through his cell window, right? But I ask you, why do newspapers print headlines like 'Mysterious Discovery of Corpse!' What's mysterious about a corpse? When we find one, we measure it and we photograph it and we cut it up, we know every fiber in and on it, we know what it last ate, how it died, you name it; and besides that, we know somebody probably killed it for money. Everything's clear and straightforward . . . You can pour me some more of that black tea, sir. All crimes are clear and straightforward, sir; at least you know the motives and things like that. But what your cat is thinking, that's a mystery, or what your maid dreams about, or what's on your wife's mind when she's staring out the window. Everything's a mystery sir, except criminal cases; a criminal case is a specified slice of reality with strict definitions, a little cross-section we can hold up to the light. If I took a look around me here, sir, I'd get to know all kinds of things about you. but what I'm doing is looking at the toes of my boots, because officially we're not interested in you," he added, sipping his hot tea.

"There's this strange notion," he began again after a moment, "that the police, especially detectives, are interested in mysteries. We don't give a damn about mysteries; what interests us is disorderly conduct. Sir, crime doesn't interest us because it's mysterious, but because it's against the law. We don't chase crooks out of intellectual curiosity; we chase them so we can arrest them in the name of the law. Listen, streetcleaners don't run around the streets with brooms so they can spot people's traces in the dust, but so they can sweep and tidy up all the filth life leaves behind. Law and order aren't a bit mysterious. Keeping order is dirty work, sir; and whoever wants to keep things clean and tidy has to poke his fingers into all kinds of nasty stuff. Well, somebody has to do it," he said despondently, "just as somebody has to slaughter calves. But slaughtering calves out of curiosity, that's barbaric; it should only be done as a skilled trade. When it's someone's duty to do something, then at least he knows he's authorized to do it. Look, justice has to be as unquestioned as the multiplication tables. I don't know if you could prove that every theft is wrong; but I can prove to you that every theft is against the law, because I can arrest you every time. If you scattered pearls in the street, then a policeman could give you a ticket for littering. But if you started performing miracles, we couldn't stop you, unless we called it a public nuisance or unlawful public assembly."


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