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1\. The Plot is the Story

  • As we have seen, the detective story, short or long, has but one plot—the
  • problem and its solution. No matter what elaboration may be introduced, the
  • skeleton of the plot is the same; and it is this simplicity of construction,
  • this straight and narrow path of procedure, that makes the writing of
  • detective stories both easy and hard.
  • Mr. Bliss Perry eliminates the necessity in some stories, and by some writers
  • for any characterization or setting whatever. He says, in "A Study of Prose
  • Fiction:"
  • > "If its plot be sufficiently entertaining, comical, novel, thrilling, the
  • characters may be the merest lay figures and yet the story remains an
  • admirable work of art. Poe's tales of ratiocination, as he loved to call them,
  • like "The Gold Bug," "The Purloined Letter," or his tales of pseudo-science,
  • like "A Descent into the Maelstrom," are dependent for none of their power
  • upon any interest attaching to character. The exercise of the pure logical
  • faculty, or the wonder and the terror of the natural world, gives scope enough
  • for that consummate craftsman."
  • And in his "Talks on Writing English" Arlo Bates observes:
  • > "There is a crude popular idea that the refinements of literary art are
  • wasted, at any rate upon the general reader. So many books succeed, at least
  • temporarily, which can make no slightest pretence to any grace of manner, and
  • which have not even the merit of reasonable accuracy, that the student is apt
  • to feel that these things are superfluous."
  • But we have shown earlier in the book that while a detective story, even if
  • poorly written, may interest and amuse, it is not literature unless it shows
  • that superiority of intellectual attainment demanded by the critics or
  • scholars.