(tape whirrs, clicks)
(at first inaudible, then we can hear the following) ... Twenty years ago — despite Mr. Wrong's manifesto — the 'mental exercise' whitewash might still have held some drops of water. Today the Who-Stole-the-Necklace-or-The-Mystery-of-the-Butler's-Past sort of milk & mush is a drug on the market, and even the most apologetic of the British enthusiasts do not absorb it in any number. The international Cumulative Book Index tries to distinguish only between 'detective' murders and murders merely mysterious, attempting no category for mysteries based on crimes other than murder. For that matter, murder is generally less gruesome than the 'compensation' in matter, murder is generally less gruesome than the 'compensation in some other way' — impending death, plague, or unspecified doom threatening all of humanity or even London — that writers of the non-lethal mystery see fit to bring in. It is, in any case, a vanishing form, and any possible bona fide in the 'mental exercise' defense has vanished with it.
Even fifteen years ago, when Harry Stephen Keeler (and 'Ellery Queen') created murders with the solution sealed, announcing that all the clues had been given and that the reader should be able to logic out the murderer's identity, no one wanted to bother and this feature was quickly dropped. That readers commonly abort the whole 'mental exercise' angle, and sneak a glimpse at the solution beforehand, is so well known that writers are hard put to it to think up tricks to forfend them — like making the narrator the murderer, and having the denouncement narrated by someone else. The reader-pack yelps. "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" They care. They want to know who they are hunting down. Though the murder-mystery is ostensibly a glorification of law & order ('Crime does not pay' and so forth) the reader wants to cheat while reading it. How no, mental exercise?
MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT: THE MURDER-MYSTERY READER IS A LYNCHER. A solid citizen by day, by night he rides hooded to watch human beings die. He may, certainly does, think of himself as a mere, harmless literary escapist. He may actually believe that his nightly passion to murder the murderer of his own creating adds up to nothing more than pleasant, law-abiding, purely, meaningless recreation — light entertainment, and all that. He may imagine that the mental torture, the anxiety, the pounding heart and terror (jargonicé, 'suspense'), the desperate twistings & turnings, and the final, ingeniously contrived humiliation and death of the murderer — three hundred violent and excited pages of it — all these, he may imagine, are no part of his interest.
Yet remove from the murder-mystery this element of sadism — of manhunt and lynch — and what is left? A flabby mouth of greed, mistaken identity, or vernacular chit-chat. Wholly without attraction for nine in every ten readers, the non-lethal mystery does not sell well, is not read, and is now therefor seldom encountered. The 'mystery' is the murder-mystery. And the murder-mystery reader wants blood, death, and lynching. But not the blood of the 'victim,' whose unwept death — presumably the whole justification for the protracted lynch that follows — is lackadaisically presented on page one as a fait accompli, an utterly routine knock-down-&-drag-out bit of ritual. The murder-mystery reader wants the murderer's blood.
And again, where is the difference? The murderer may have killed from the noblest of motives. His 'victim' may have been a blackmailer, a drug-peddler (of anything but alcohol), a sadist (sic), a human ghoul. It may all even have been a mistake. But what are the reader's motives? He has none. He is quite calm. His interest in law & order is infinitesimal — so much so, that he enthroned the murder-book as our prime literary fare (one third of all fiction printed) in the midst of the illegal, nation-wide whiskey-jag of the 1920's. The murders that he avenges are written to order for him. Wholly synthetic, they would not exist at all but for his endless thirst for blood. He picks up his nightly 'mystery,' prepared to lynch down whatever miserable murderer his author chooses to present. He is unprejudiced. He has no personal grudge. He will kill anybody. He kills for pleasure.
-----[phone message machine interrupts: ONEMINUTELEFT,BEEP]-----
(Gerhon's voice quickens up and rises slightly in volume, as he continues)
... It may be pointed out that!, in this!, murder-mystery aficionados differ in no way from the readers of newspaper accounts! — voyeurism at second hand! — of courtroom trials and executions! This is certainly true! William Bolitho's definition of the murder trial (in Murder for Profit, 1926, page 3!) might with equal propriety be applied to the murder-mystery, for both, equally, are, and I'm quoting!
TTHE CELEBRATION OF A HUMAN SACRIFICE BY SUFFOCATION, TO WHICH MODERN MEN ARE EXCITED IN A CROWD BY THE RECITAL OF SOME BLOODY DEED WHOSE DETAILS AWAKEN HATE AND FEAR TO WHICH THE COMING EXECUTION IS THE FORE-SHADOWED, FORE-TASTED, COMPLEMENTARY! EVERYTHING THERE ... IS DEVISED TO CREATE THAT HOARSE ATMOSPHERE IN WHICH ALONE MODERN MAN, IN A STATE OF PEACE, CAN WORK THEMSELVES UP TO A CORPORATE KILLING.
It may even be pointed out that the human sacrifice of!, and to! the murderer in book! — three hundred of them a year!, every year! (not! counting! reprints!) with an audience of millions — appeals to the same socially accepted BLOODLUST as that thought desirable at prize & BULLFIGHTS --
-----[phone message machine interrupts: YOUHAVETENSECONDS, BEEP]-----
-- This is also true! It must be questioned! However, whether the lulling along of the death-pleasure emotionalisms through symbolic satisfaction in books and arenas does more than to keep them ever-fresh in the race, waiting only for the stress of economic struggle, religious factionalism, and war to FREE THEM FROM THE LIMITATIONS OF SYMBOLISM AND SCAPEGOATRY, AND ALLOW THEM BRUTAL! AND DELIGHTED! PLAY!
(message BEEPS, tape clicks off, end of transcript)