Listening to “The Thing That Cries in the Night”; (Chapter Eight): Suspicion Is a Frustrated Drunk

Well, here I am, a German in Britain’s wild Welsh west writing about American radio culture of the 1940s. And now that there are finally a few good reasons to follow some made-in-the-UK television programs, I am about to leave for New York City. Anyway. I’ll just have to catch up with The X-Factor, Bleak House, and the new season of Little Britain when I return in early December. I sure had a laugh looking at these pictures from Little Britain‘s forthcoming third season. In the meantime, enjoying a glass of brandy by the fireside, I will continue my daily visits to the Martin mansion, as I listen to the eighth installment of the radio thriller “The Thing That Cries in the Night.” Part of Carlton E. Morse’s I Love a Mystery series, it was originally broadcast in the US on this day, 9 November, in 1949.

Job Martin, a supposedly good-natured drunk, has been forcefully returned to the home of his grandmother, the formidable Randolph Martin. Was he just out for a drink? Or is he responsible for the murder of the Martin’s chauffeur? After all, Job’s gun was found next to the corpse and the chauffeur’s attempts to blackmail the less-than-saintly Martins would be motive enough. According to his sister Charity, however, Job is likely to become a victim himself. She claims that he is in grave danger of falling prey to “them,” mysterious and as yet unseen adversaries intent on killing off the Martins one by one.

Meanwhile, the three Martin sisters are locked up in their rooms. For their safety? Jack Packard, hired by Mrs. Martin to prevent further “granddaughter trouble” without being told just what this “trouble” might be, looks upon all of them as suspects in a case as muddled and bizarre as any yet tackled by Jack, Doc, and Reggie, the trio of the A-1 Detective Agency.

This particular instalment plays more like a conventional whodunit, and Job, who is rather nasty when sober, comes across as a prime suspect. “Look,” he sneers, “we got a motto in this house. You mind your business and I mind mine.” He sure shows little concern for his three sisters. He dismisses Hope’s near-death by chloroform as an attempted suicide and, when reminded of the bloody attacks on Charity, remarks disdainfully that “somebody scratched her with a pin.” And if something happened to Fay, he would “send flowers to the funeral.” Besides, Job reminds his interrogator, “nobody is dead, except for the chauffeur, and he doesn’t count.” In vino veritas? Or does the truth come out when the booze runs out?

Having wavered between hard-boiled action and neo-gothic thrills, Morse’s mystery commits itself to one genre for once, putting in place one of the genre markers it previously tossed about in willful abandon. We are in whodunit territory now, with a line-up of suspects or at least some clarification of motives in a murder case whose killings seemed rather arbitrary so far. We have gotten to know all the members of the Martin household, and we have learned enough about them to find them sufficiently suspicious to allow that keeping whatever secret their home is harboring might well be worth a few more murders.

One aspect of the case remains as puzzling to me as it is to the impatient Doc Long: why has Mrs. Martin engaged the three adventurers-for-hire to take care of her troubles if she is so unwilling to disclose just what those troubles might be?

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