Thunderdome: Wu vs. Edmund Wilson and the Sanctity of Crime Fiction

FourFingerWu Feb 09, 2019. 0 comments

This aggression will not stand, man. Two men enter, one man leaves.


this brought me letters of protest in a volume and of a passionate earnestness which had hardly been elicited even by my occasional criticisms of the Soviet Union.

If this prick was still alive, I would send him an email right now telling him what a putz he is. And I haven’t even read the article yet. Maybe I should take a sedagive before I begin because I saw Nero Wolfe’s name in there as I was scrolling.

beginning to feel, at the age of twelve, that I was outgrowing that form of literature.

You are a piece of work, you shit. A direct insult to all of your readers. That’s some good writing right there.

the admiring stooge, adoring and slightly dense



(for clarity he is describing Archie Goodwin here.)

interminable divagations


I did not care for Agatha Christie and I hope never to read another of her books.

What a charming fellow.

It is all like a sleight-of-hand trick, in which the magician diverts your attention from the awk­ward or irrelevant movements that conceal the manipu­lation of the cards


I went back and read The Maltese Falcon

Uh oh.

he lacked the ability to bring the story to imaginative life.


As a writer, he is surely almost as far below the rank of Rex Stout as Rex Stout is “below that of James Cain. The Maltese Falcon today seems not much above I those newspaper picture-strips in which you follow from day to day the ups and downs of a strong-jawed hero and a hardboiled but beautiful adventuress.


What, then, is the spell of the detective story that has been felt by T. S. Eliot and Paul Elmer More but which I seem incapable of feeling?

Perhaps you could endeavor to be something other than an unfeeling inhuman monster? That would help.

As a department of imaginative writing, it looks to me completely dead.


The spy story may perhaps only now be realizing its poetic possibilities, as the admirers of Graham Greene contend; and the murder story that exploits psychologi­cal horror is an entirely different matter

Finally the shithead shows life.

But the detec­tive story proper had borne all its finest fruits by the end of the nineteenth century, having only declined from the point where Edgar Allan Poe had been able to com­municate to M. Dupin something of his own ratiocinative intensity and where Dickens had invested his plots with a social and moral significance that made the final solution of the mystery a revelatory symbol of something that the author wanted seriously to say.

And right back into the toilet.

that sec­ond murder which always, in the novels, occurs at an unexpected moment when the investigation is well un­der way

Now this is true. He has identified a trope.

as in one of the Nero Wolfe stories, may take place right in the great detective’s office.

Mr. Wolfe was pissed. A fatal mistake on the murderers part.

George Gruesome


the supercilious and omniscient detective, who knows exactly where to fix the guilt.

I know exactly where you can fix something, pal.

I made some rather derogatory remarks in connec­tion with my impressions of the genre in general.


the embarrassing name of Lord Peter Wimsey,

How embarrassing.

the aw­ful whimsical patter of Lord Peter.

How cute that awful little reference is.

The enthusiastic reader of detective stories will indig­nantly object at this point that I am reading for the wrong things:

The hell you say.

that I ought not to be expecting good writing, characterization, human interest or even atmos­phere.

Another one of those delicious direct insults to the reader. Always a hallmark of fine writing.

It was then that I understood that a true connoisseur of this fiction must be able to suspend the demands of his imagination and literary taste and take the thing as an intellectual problem.

You understood nothing of the true connoisseur. A remarkable accomplishment.

I feel that it is probably irrelevant to mention that I enjoyed The Burning Court, by John Dickson Carr,

I feel that it is probably not irrelevant.

There is a tinge of black magic that gives it a little of the interest of a horror story, and the author has a virtuosity at playing with alternative hypotheses that makes this trick of detective fiction more amusing than it usually is.

Well, well. How much bullshit have we waded through to get to the second true thing?

His Farewell, My Lovely is the only one of these books that I have read all of and read with enjoyment

Only one of the best books ever written in the genre. Small favors.

What he writes is a novel of adventure which has less in common with Hammett than with Alfred Hitch­cock and Graham Greene—the modern spy story which has substituted the jitters of the Gestapo and the G.P.U. for the luxury world of E. Phillips Oppenheim. It is not simply a question here of a puzzle which has

He doesn’t know it because he is such a pompous ass, but he has unconsciously stumbled on something here.

my final conclusion is that the reading of detective stories is simply a kind of vice that, for silliness and minor harmfulness, ranks somewhere be­tween smoking and crossword puzzles.

That’s a fair cop.

This conclusion seems borne out by the violence of the letters I have been receiving

(laughs) You don’t say.

Detective-story readers feel guilty, they are habitually on the defensive, and all their talk about “well-written” mysteries is simply an excuse for their vice, like the reasons that the alcoholic can always pro­duce for a drink.

Me? Defensive?

so the opium smoker tells the novice not to mind if the first pipe makes him sick

When I was a child, I had a fever. My hands felt just like two balloons

One of these tells me that I have underestimated both the badness of detective stories themselves and the lax mental habits of those who en­joy them.

Who?! Who doesn’t want to wear the ribbon?!

he says, that the true addict, half the time, never even finds out who has committed the murder. The addict reads not to find anything out but merely to get the mild stimulation of the succession of unexpected incidents and of the suspense itself of looking forward to learning a sensational secret. That this secret is nothing at all and does not really account for the incidents does not matter to such a reader. He has learned from his long indulgence how to connive with the author in the swindle: he does not pay any real attention when the disappointing denouement occurs, he does not think back and check the events, he simply shuts the book and starts another.

There is a kernel of truth here that describes me and my large collection of crime fiction. Nobody reads Nero Wolfe for the mystery, you read Nero Wolfe for Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

And to the seven correspondents who are with me and who in some cases have thanked me for helping them to liberate themselves from a habit which they recognized as wasteful of time and degrading to the intellect but into which they had been bullied by convention and the portentously invoked examples of Woodrow Wilson and Andre Gide—to these staunch and pure spirits I say: Friends, we represent a minority, but Literature is on our side.

Another insult and more bullshit. Fine, fine writing.

With so many fine books to be read, so much to be studied and known, there is no need to bore ourselves with this rubbish.

The end.


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