Well, I’m off on a short trip to London this morning, but I will try to continue my scheduled serial reading of Carlton E. Morse’s old-time radio thriller I Love a Mystery while there. How this will work when I’m in New York City later this month I am not quite sure. We’ll see. Now, let’s hear what is going on in the Martin Mansion.
Not much . . . at first. Sibelius’s “Valse Triste” seems an apt theme for Morse’s mysteries. After every two steps forward, we are forced to take one step back. And here we are on a Thursday, recapitulating the events thus far. Such synopsizing is something a serial writer might best reserve for a Monday, when audiences, returning to their radio stories after a weekend elsewhere, could do with a little refresher discourse. Morse did not favor narrators and was dissatisfied with plot summaries or lead-ins read by the announcer, conventions he called “the greatest bugaboo the serial writer has to face.”
While bound to adhere to such techniques, I Love a Mystery otherwise shuns omniscient and retrospective narration. Instead, Morse creates scenes in which the experiencer of an event relates to other characters what the radio listeners have already overheard or undergone themselves.
There’s a knock at the door. In steps a woman dressed in little more than silk stockings and “wisps” of imported French lace. It is Hope Martin, who appears to be fully deserving of the epithet her sister Fay used when she called her “the family wench.” Intoxicated without being drunk, Hope just got out of a “slip-on, slip-off dress,” returning from a date with the family chauffeur, a date that ended in gunshots at some nightclub; she dropped the dress somewhere, because bloodstains just don’t “match the color scheme.”
Not quite Leave It to Beaver material, is it? As a dramatist writing in the shelter of invisibility, Morse could get away with more sex and violence than any pre-cable television writer. His fictions, while subject to censorship, resounded with “violence, blood, tough talk, and overtones of sex,” as cultural historian Russell Nye remarked in the early 1970s. Now for the violence.
While Hope is still showing off her scant attire, the “Thing” begins to cry again (a “baby ghost,” Doc suggests). There are screams. As the three men rush downstairs, they are greeted by Fay, who tells them, with considerably less of the proud “vulgarian” in her voice, that she just found the Martin’s chauffeur lying dead on the floor of the hall entrance. “And he’s got Hope’s dress . . . all over with blood.”
Say, just who’s got the dirtier mind: Morse or his listeners?