15 Robert Kenny

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[The New Australian Poetry, page 189]

Robert Kenny

from A Book of Detection


      THE MAN WHOSE GREATNESS CANNOT
      BE EQUALLED LAMENTS THE UNSCIENTIFIC
      METHODS OF THE AMERICANS

Where is the art, my dear friend, in the bright light or the sharp fist to the arteries at the side of the neck? It is all very well that these men concern themselves with the philosophy of The New World Adventure, or take pride in their nodding acquaintance with the noble chess board, or their knowledge of the more obscure practitioners of English literature, but what has it all to do with deduction and analysis? The reality, old friend, is that they have all received their basic training from such agencies as Pinkertons, which I sometimes cannot help but feel, are more suited to thuggery than detection (though I have noted that you mention them in non-apologetic tones in your memoirs), with the result that though they always get their man, there is little evidence to say whether this person is the culprit. Too many questions are left without answer. It is one thing to play a harmless trick on members of the lower classes in order to extract information (as I have done), it is another indeed to inflict torture for the same purpose. Do not entertain a notion that I have softened with the years — it is not a simple matter of sentiment, nor even ethics. Now consider, if you will, yourself in such a situation: a man holds a pistol at your temple,


[The New Australian Poetry, page 190]
Robert Kenny
from A Book of Detection

he is demanding you answer a question about which you have not the relevant knowledge, do you tell him the truth, that you have not the answer to the question? And remember the firearm. Or do you simply give him any answer you think will satisfy in order to be set free? As you no doubt perceive, the problem is one of practicality and efficiency. How much of the information collected in this way is, at best, irrelevant and, at worst, misleading? Ah, yes, my friend, physical prowess and worldly sophistication are all very well to entertain the populace, but there are more essential ingredients in the recipe for a complete and able detective.

(Sherlock Holmes)


      THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE DETECTIVES
      IN THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS: ONE

The reason is not plain. It has to be imagined. Being appreciative of all the finer abnormalities of English life (package tours of the Nile before the revolution, the symmetry of the rose, neatness in all things — in English winters, the overcoat is fully buttoned, or everything is spent abroad — Ah! the hotels! Why stay at all? The island represents nought but its enjoyment of the eccentric, and its possible acceptance if the accent was foreign. Life’s simple as a rule is rule enough for the big-game hunter, but what simplicity is there beyond such sport? Complexities must be ordered, dialogue in the mouth of its correct owner, the madame or mademoiselle handled carefully, exceptions to be studied) he smoothed the moustaches, entered the small French restaurant and ordered a meal of exquisite excellence.

(Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot)


[The New Australian Poetry, page 191]

Robert Kenny
from A Book of Detection


      SERGEANT CUFF, OR: THE LAST ROSE
      OF SUMMER IS ONLY A WHISTLED TUNE

He was right to retire to rose bushes. Whatever his failings with crime, his theory for budding the white moss-rose proved undeniably correct — there was no doubt (even Begbie, the gardener, the loudest doubter, exclaimed admirable amazement). A question of soils and seasons he’d claimed. All very well, and there amongst the rose bushes he would have stayed, happily. But an exponent of epistles on police methodology presumed her roots sprang from the same earth as that rose bush (there in lovely Ireland). Bestowing upon the humble sergeant the wreath of ancestry. A heavy weight. Too heavy. In a nutshell: something more was expected of him than he himself was aware of, and he was expected to be aware of something more than he could be.

Scotch whisky, it seems, is aware of more than any could expect: a night’s vigilance beside his suspect’s door bore only the fruit of an empty bottle. A signal that did not lead him to the only possible alternative. Which stood god-free, able and white under the stars of the clear night sky. O rock of moonages! A charitable Christian! — always a sign of crime: knowledge we amateurs had too long before poor Cuff.

(Dorothy Sayer’s introduction to
Wilkie Collin’s The Moonstone.)

      THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE DETECTIVES
      IN THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS: TWO

It was midmorning on the beach below the hotel. The sky was blue. Oh! how they do go on. These holidayers. Talking as if a free ear had never before presented itself. Ah, no talk is idle. Here I am, amongst the Empire, and it is no stranger than life in the village. The vicar and Mrs Adcate never agreeing on the pruning of the church roses. Yes, they are careful here not to offend the old ones. Aren’t they? But


[The New Australian Poetry, page 192]
Robert Kenny
from A Book of Detection

really there isn’t much that doesn’t happen in a little village. You don’t have to cross the world for adventure. As you know. And they show such respect — never being annoyed by the clatter of knitting needles or the chatter of an old lady not sure what she is doing in the tropics. But I do enjoy it! So kind. And you especially! Taking all those photographs of me by the lagoon to send back to Mrs Wilcock. Yet I’ll feel no remorse, you know, when they hang you. There isn’t that much forgiveness. Not even beneath these perfect blue skies.

      A PROSPECTIVE STORY BY GERTRUDE STEIN
      AND EDGAR WALLACE

Let us pretend. It is a detective story. Only in a detective story somebody has to die. Or at least be dead. Yet in the crazy house over-looking the creek, streaked and blurred by nature, between warehouses and warehouse, none are. Yet. And if so then by means other than those that call for detectives. Perhaps then another crime other than somebody dead? Perhaps something said? Or no crime but an allusion to it. No crime but illusion. Who knows, a puzzle? In a crazy house over-hanging the waterfront, he went to his desk and took out a flat package and said something. She did not immediately reply. A detective story should have a connection with romance. On dozens of occasions she had gone to collect such packages, sometimes when it was neither convenient nor easy she had. And had tasted the powder the packages contained. It was not saccharine and she said as much. You’re becoming sentimentalist he smiled. He suffered from obesity. She thought quantity was one of the things to think about. How much do you use? Look he said, impatient to squash any suspicion, you can’t live without hurting somebody. There isn’t a stitch of clothing you wear that didn’t hurt somebody to make. She went to the window. Looking out over the half-rivers and harbours she suddenly laughed: What has all this, she waved an arm across the panorama of the window, got to do with money? He


[The New Australian Poetry, page 193]

Robert Kenny
from A Book of Detection

frowned, puzzled. Something had happened. She had thrown him off balance. What had been coolly calculated impatience became now tainted with nervousness. What is it you want? He found himself saying. He thought there was a vague smile on her face as she laid her bag on the desk and walked to the fireplace. Money is very important she said, we give it and take it and everybody can think about it. One would think he said, relaxing and moving closer to her, that you knew all there was to know about it. He was smiling now. She sipped her drink and smiled back at him. There is nothing to know she suddenly laughed and looked into the fire. He wanted to change the subject. He took another package from the mantelpiece, it was a smaller and more rectangular shape. I’ve got a present for you he said. Octagonal diamonds. She looked at him worried. Money is important she said. O you’re right about the profits he said, but the last shipment was excellent. Then something came over him. Some wild desire, some urge born in a second and in a second satisfied. She was standing very close to him. His hands had but to reach out … In a second she was in his arms. He was kissing the white upturned face. She did not fight. She stood stiffly erect. Something in her passivity chilled him. He let her go. Human nature has no choice, it can say neither yes nor no. She walked slowly and deliberately to the desk, opened her bag, took out something. A little Browning pistol. She held it a little higher than her waist. She moved carefully, unhurried. Why are you carrying a gun he asked, breathless. The expression on her face was iron steady, her eyes did not blink as she watched his large bulk for any movement. She did not reply. He put the package back on the mantelpiece. Staggered. He had expected a weakling dependent, needful of help for her immediate wants. It was the calm hand and not the Browning it held that caused his dry mouth. He spoke finally. You’re making a fuss over nothing, he said. It seemed inadequate. Even as he said it. Her voice was unmarred by fear or anger. She said Suspicion is to believe what you see, to believe what you hear and to see what you see. He went to interrupt but the gun seemed to move indis-tinguishably. It may be nothing, she continued, it may not;


[The New Australian Poetry, page 194]
Robert Kenny
from A Book of Detection

if it happens again, nothing or not nothing, I will kill you. It was not hysteria. He knew. He could not move. She put the gun back in her bag. Closed it and walked from the room. The story of a dead man should have a connection with romance because a dead man is dead and dead is dead. Romance is the only way to be there where there is a dead man. By romancing. A long story.

      THE GOLDEN HOUSE GIRL’S FAREWELL MURDER:
      A NOVEL

It started when I saw Lew Scholes standing on a corner on Baker avenue smoking Greek cigarettes and trying to hail a cab. No luck Lew? I asked and we shook hands and reminded each other that the last time we met we were chasing a chinaman named Lee Jon, a pretty girl with silver hair whose name we didn’t know and a New York tough-kid who liked to be called Waldo Perch but whose real name was Johnny Bonito. Bonito and the chinaman went to the gallows but the girl escaped because both Lew and I were raw enough to believe she’d be easy. It ended two months later when I heard that Lew and the girl had killed each other in a shooting match in Oakland.

(Dashiel Hammett’s Continental Op.)

      AN ANTIPODEAN SCAR: AH! CARS AND GOLD

Maybe it is the devil but he got it, kiddo. The line down the back a target as good as any, for a knife named Betsy, kept under the dress, strapped to the thigh. From whichever angle it’s looked at, death is essentially a matter of timing. And a bad badger bowler-hatted neath the northern sun, never did this beloved coast any good. Nothing as bland as ‘bad for the tourist trade’ (as a desert skulled assistant might have us believe). No. There is a Right and a Wrong — a proposition of two halves producing the friction of all our goings. It’s easier to speak of Spain or even Singapore than tell of Tas-


[The New Australian Poetry, page 195]

Robert Kenny
from A Book of Detection

mania: its climate and history offer no pleasing precognition. Yet this is not Acapulco, nor Honolulu, for all its hopes. At the corner of Hero Ave. and Koala Keys, the cast is a set of problems too easily solved. The outcome: a series of weekly waitings unfulfilled. ‘Here’ is merely ‘sunshine’ — a grid of palm trees and surf. Of guns and swimming pools. Whiskey and ‘laughing’ ‘girls’. Where the shortest of all distances is from a blonde to a bed. And ‘when they’re like you luv — do I ever!’ suffices for altruism. Where the questions are left unasked rather than unanswered. Bursting with ‘bikini-birds’, each as indistinguishable from the other as they are from the devil — Doomed from the first sighting.

(R. Carson Gold’s Devil Doon)


      THE DETECTIVE UNABLE TO FIND INTEREST
      IN ANY CASE

I am finished. Empty. On either side of me lies my body. A shell. Neither alcohol nor cocaine offer stimulation. There is nothing to focus on. No motivation. Afghanistan or LA are no longer exotic enough — New York, just noise and big buildings. I want to be a spectacular victim. Or, at least, the victim of something spectacular. To be of some use. To justify my lingering attachment to crime. Or kill. If only to test the knowledge of one side from the other side. Spectacular. There is no need to offer consolation: the first is often the last and vice versa. There are no more statements to issue. The last plastic bag has been filled. There are more plastic bags. To say, Goodnight, yet stay within the eternal triangle of Victim, Hunted and Hunter. An elaborate suicide. Goodnight.