Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"The Plot Is All"

"The detective tale is modern but it is getting into old age, and why? It depends on plot, and plots have a way of running out."
Methinks this fellow's tongue dwells in his cheek; you decide:
IT is a mistake to regard detective literature as an ignoble form of entertainment and escape. It must not be confused with the horror tale or with the story of adventure. For unlike them, the detective story must be tightly knit, not a strand missing. Far from being a tale of action, it is a thought—intellectual challenge to work on a plane utterly different from that usually lived by the reader. It is a battle of brains, the author versus the reader, a gamble in which the reader plays his hunch, or his thought, or what he thinks is his thought, and the author is the Bank operating the edge.
Some of its charm, too, lies in one's knowledge that it must end—and that a finish, valid and well-patterned, however surprising, will be reached. This removes it from the domain of ordinary living and from the ordinary novel, in which there are gaps, and starts and stops, and a continuity without conclusion.
The archaic, primitive, true detective tale is a geometric form; the characters must lack character; the scene must be sufficiently familiar as not to intrude, or give rise to thought on its own behalf. Love interest must not confuse the reader's severely intellectual struggle; and humor is negligible. The plot is all, the clues must be intellectually honorable and not just red herrings. This is the lonely man's chess game. Many others who want surcease from their environment take to drink or movies or cocaine, but the devotee of the detective story is an austere intellectual, living a difficult but ascetic life. — Foster Kennedy, "From Whodunits to Poetry," The Saturday Review (October 18, 1941)

Category: Detective fiction

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