Well, my sojourn in London was cut shorter than the hairs on the bald spot of a follicle-challenged skinhead. Turns out, I am even more allergic to cats than I thought and got the bloodshot peepers to prove it. We were supposed to stay with friends for the weekend; but their feline companion very nearly cut off my oxygen supply. Exhausted as I am, it seems I escaped breathing my last by a cat’s hair. Now I’m back in the old British west, seeking solace in listening anew to Carlton E. Morse’s radio serial I Love a Mystery thriller “The Thing That Cries in the Night.” So, what’s going on in the fifth chapter, as aired on 4 November 1949?
A few days ago, I made the distinction between the realism of hard-boiled detective fiction and the romantic melodramatics of gothic tales of terror. Does Morse draw the same line or isn’t he rather intent on blurring it? There has been a lot of tough talk in the previous chapters of “The Thing”; and the current installment continues in the hard-boiled vein.
Considering the Martin’s decaying family tree and the nightly outbursts of an invisible infant foretelling doom, it appears that Morse prefers to shift and waver between established genres. He does not quite invite his listeners to believe that anything goes (which would make it necessary for his three central characters either to prove their mortality or assume the roles of superheroes); yet, despite his Chandlerian realism, Morse does not want us to rule out the supernatural altogether. Daring us to pin down his outrageous fictions, he straddles or defies genres—much to our confusion, irritation, and delight. In this particular chapter, realism wins the day . . . almost.
There is a corpse in the entrance hall of the Martin mansion. What’s more, there are perfectly reasonable explanations for this death by gunshot: his employers, the Martins, feared and hated him (even though Hope, “the family wench,” did not mind the excitement of an occasional jaunt with the liveried blackmailer).
We know that the chauffeur was up “putting the screws” on the Martin family by threatening to divulge their dirty little secrets. Meanwhile, Fay confesses to having burned personal letters in an effort to protect hers. We don’t know quite what these secrets are. We cannot even be sure about Job’s evidence—he might just be too drunk to tell the truth about the whereabouts of his gun. We can only be certain that the troubles won’t come to an end in this chapter. After all, there are ten more to follow.
Morse guards many of his secrets, telling us only so much as not to frustrate and keep us wondering instead. Listening to I Love a Mystery, I sometimes feel like Job Martin, the drunkard brother of troubled Faith, Hope, and Charity. I am not in the know, but appreciate the intoxication of twilight. Just lucid or elucidated enough to realize that there is danger ahead, I stumble forward, groping for clues, or amuse myself failing to make much sense of it all. Perhaps I’ve even given up on the mystery as solvable puzzle and enjoy being taking for a ride.
It is time to bid farewell to Jack, Doc, and Reggie for the week. Tune in on Monday for more melodrama! Say, how satisfying (or necessary) is a solution if the mystery is as suspenseful and unpredictable as “The Thing That Cries in the Night”?