6/2/2002 
WHODUNIT 
In which Evan Hunter and Ed McBain seriously discuss life and death, crime and punishment, awareness and perception, mystery and murders, epiphany and suspense, sacrifice and change, order and aberration, pastries and passion, political correctness and eroticism, covenants and torts, and all the vast differences among or between them. . . 


ED McBAIN: Who invented the term Ďpolice
proceduralí, anyway?

EVAN HUNTER: I think it was Anthony Boucher,
writing in the New York Times Book Review.

McB: I hate that label.

EH: I hate all labels.

McB: Makes a novel about cops sound like something
dull and plodding.

EH: Frankly, Iíve never understand the difference
between a police procedural and a novel about cops.

McB: Elementary.  If a former cop writes a book about
cops, itís called a novel.  If a mere professional writer
writes a book about cops, itís called a police
procedural.

EH: I see.

McB: What I donít understand is why a novel is simply
called a novel whereas a novel with a murder in it is
called a mystery.

EH: Not all novels with murders in them are called
mysteries.  I myself wrote a novel with two
murders in it, and it wasnít a mystery.

McB: What was it called?

EH: A novel.

McB: I meant the title.

EH: Oh.  LIZZIE.

McB: I never heard of it.

EH: Neither did anyone else.  It was about Lizzie
Borden.

McB: Then you should have put my name on it.

EH: Why?

McB: Because it dealt with murder.  Two murders, in
fact.

EH: But it wasnít a mystery.

McB: Woman takes an ax. . .

EH: A hatchet.

McB: Gives her mother forty whacks. . .

EH: Nineteen, actually.  And it wasnít. . .

McB: And then gives. . .

EH: It wasnít her mother.  It was her stepmother.

McB: Whoever.  And then gives her father forty-one. . .

EH: Ten, actually.

McB: But thatís not a mystery, hmm?

EH: I was more interested in the generational conflict.

McB: Biggest whodunit of the century, you were
interested in the generational conflict.  Given the same
material, Iíd have written an entirely different book.

EH: Iíd bet the farm on it.  But youíre a mystery writer,
and Iím not.

McB: Itís my opinion that any good novel should be a
mystery.

EH: Well, only in that the reader should constantly want
to know whatíll happen next, yes.  But. . .

McB: We call that suspense.  We in the. . . ah. . . genre.

EH: Genre or otherwise, a good novel should be
suspenseful, I agree.  The difference between a
straight novel a mystery, however. . .

McB: If weíre going to discuss mysteries here. . .

EH: I was merely going to say that if a good novel is
about change. . .

McB: Not all good novels.  A good novel can also be
about insight.

EH: Insight suggests change.

McB: Well, it suggests awareness perhaps, perception,
but not necessarily. . .

EH: Awareness and perception normally lead to
change.

McB: Not inevitably.  Suppose the perception is simply
the realization that the person will never change.

EH: That in itself is change of a sort.

McB: Suppose the hero or heroine remains unchanged
in the novel, but his or her experience results in a
profound change in the reader?

EH: Thatís entirely possible.  All Iím suggesting. . .

McB: A great poem Ďcracks the frozen ice within us.í  
Canít a great novel do the same thing?

EH: Who said that?

McB: I did.  Who else is here?

EH: It didnít sound like you.

McB: Did it sound like you?

EH: More and more often, I think we sound alike.

McB: Iím flattered.  But you were saying. . .

EH: I was saying that if a good novel is about change,
then the suspense in that novel is premised on
whether or not the hero or heroine actually will change.
Will there be an epiphany at the end of the book?  Will
there be that blinding flash of recog. . .?

McB: The suspense in my novels is premised on
whether or not the hero or heroine will get killed.  The
blinding flash is usually from the muzzle of a pistol.

EH: Listen, whoís supposed to be talking here?

McB: When weíre talking mystery, Iím
supposed to be talking.

EH: Thatís exactly my point.

McB: Iíll grant you that a good mystery is about change.  
But. . .

EH: Thatís not what I said.

McB: I know.  Itís what I said.  But the change takes
place at the very beginning of the book.  A murder is
committed, producing a disruption, a change, in the
orderly flow of human events.  The hero. . .

EH: Or heroine.

McB: Yes, yes, comes in to solve the crime and to
correct the aberration.  The change is reversed.  Order
is restored.

EH: I never thought of it that way.

McB: I did.

EH: Small wonder.

McB: CRIMINAL CONVERSATION isnít a
mystery, is it?

EH: No, no.

McB: Because if it is, you know, my name should. . .

EH: No, itís not a mystery.  Although there are several
murders in it.

McB: Hmmm.  Is it a crime novel then?

EH: No.  But there are criminals in it.

McB: If itís not a mystery. . .

EH: Itís not.

McB: And itís not a crime novel. . .

EH: Not that, either.

McB: Then what is it?

EH: Iíd call it an erotic novel.  Because thatís what the
title suggests, you see.  Itís taken from a legal
definition, you see.

McB: I see. Then itís a legal thriller, is that it?

EH: No.  Do you know what a tort is?

McB: Of course I know what a tort is.

EH: What is it?

McB: Itís a sort of pastry shell with fruit in it.

EH: A tort. . .

McB: . . . is a wrongful act for which civil suit can be
brought.

EH: Correct.  And 'Criminal Conversation'... Crim Con,  if
you will. . . is the tort of debauching or seducing a wife.  
Or, in other words, the defilement of the marriage bed.  
Or, in yet other words, the breaking down of the
covenant of fidelity.

McB: Crim Con is all those things, huh?

EH: Yes.  Crim Con is adultery.

McB: I wouldnít have guessed.

EH: So you see, it isnít a crime novel at all.  Nor is it a
mystery novel.

McB: Then what is our new book?

EH: Our new book?

McB: Well. . . yours then.

EH: I told you.  An erotic novel.

McB: I still think my name should be on it.

EH: Iíll flip you for it.

                                     ___________
© Evan Hunter
 

 
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