Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1613
In an interview with Mel Gussow of the New York Times, Anthony Shaffer described bis smash play Sleuth as "not just a thriller.'' According to Shaffer,
the subtext is nightmarish The whole idea of people committed to a games situation They're fairly sinister people. If there is a focal...
(The entire section contains 5431 words.)
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In an interview with Mel Gussow of the New York Times, Anthony Shaffer described bis smash play Sleuth as "not just a thriller.'' According to Shaffer,
the subtext is nightmarish The whole idea of people committed to a games situation They're fairly sinister people. If there is a focal point, it's that if people lake fantasy for reality, and act upon it, it must end in disaster
At the core of this comedy-thriller is the idea of game playing. Indeed, the game of Sleuth begins before the curtain even rises. On the program are listed five characters, each played by five different actors. In reality, there are only two characters: Andrew Wyke and Milo Tindle.
Andrew is a logical initiator of the game. A mystery writer by trade, he spends his days creating complex crimes that his hero, St. John Lord Merridew, must puzzle through to their successful conclusion. Even the play's opening demonstrates this aspect, as Andrew rereads the paragraph he has just written in which Merridew explains how a seemingly inexplicable murder was carried out. The segment ends significantly, with the pronouncement. '"There, Inspector, that is Merridew"s solution.'"' This brief section foreshadows Andrew's likening himself to Merridew as the master puzzler,
Andrew is clearly drawn to games, toys, and puzzles of all sorts. As the play's stage directions read.
Games of all kinds adorn the roam, ranging in complexity from chess, draughts and checkers, to early dice and card games and even blocking games like Senai and Nine Men Morris. Sitting fry the window, under the gallery, is a life-sited figure of u Laughing Sailor.
Andrew possesses a large hamper filled with costumes from earlier times, when he and his wife Marguerite "were always dressing up in this house." As Andrew explains. "What with amateur dramatics and masquerades and costume balls, there was virtually no end to the concealment of identity." Further, while pulling the costumes out of the hamper, he annotates them by taking on their characters' voices. Here again Andrew is resorting to game playing, the game of make-believe, which is apt because throughout the play Andrew takes on false identities. The very disguise he chooses for Milo—a clown suit complete with enormous shoes— underscores the black humor of the moment and Andrew's sadistic enjoyment of his game.
Such continued references to game playing are sprinkled throughout the play. Though Milo is not a game player, he recognizes this as Andrew's essential character. He disparages a Sherlock Holmes kit and taunts Andrew at the end of the play by telling him that Marguerite is "fed up with living in Hamley's [a toy store]." The sophisticated game Senat, set up in the room, also is a device that reveals each man's nature. Milo calls it "a child's game" and carelessly picks up one of the pieces, drawing Andrew's response, "It's anything but childish, I can assure you. I've been studying it for months, and I'm still only a novice." Andrew's striving for expertise is thus subtly revealed. Milo's denigration of games, even those that require difficult strategy, also becomes apparent.
Another significant aspect in the brief exchange is Milo's use of language to reflect his distaste for the puzzles and schemes in which Andrew finds his primary delight. This use of language emerges as a pattern in the pluy. For instance, when Andrew tells Milo about his plan for the "theft" of the jewels, Milo refers to it as a "scummy little plot to defraud the insurance company." Even when Andrew holds the gun and declares his intent to kill Milo. Milo responds, "Oh Jesus! I suppose this is some sort of game." Milo's choice of words indicates thai for him a game can only be child's play. Andrew, however, assents, "Yes. We've been playing it [the game] all evening. It's called 'You're going to die and no-one will suspect murder.'" For Andrew, as already shown, a game can also pose an adult challenge. For Andrew, the game is everything. It is life itself.
In act 2, Milo demonstrates his agility at playing this adult game of Andrew's. He convinces Andrew that he is Inspector Doppler. He deliberately chooses this name to tease and challenge Andrew. Doppler is almost an anagram of the imaginary Inspector Plodder, whom Andrew had envisioned investigating the theft of the jewels, and it also is the German word for double; Doppler is Milo's double. In Doppler, Milo creates an alter ego who enjoys exacting his revenge through game playing, despite his own assertions that the only reason he chooses to play a game is because he has no alternative. When he went to lodge a report with the police, they did not believe his story."I felt this terrible anger coming over me," he tells Andrew. "Sol thought of my father, and what I might have done in Italy, and I took my own revenge.'' This is his explanation for the deception he pulled on Andrew, but he undercuts his reasoning by his summation: "But remember, Andrew, the police might still come." This one sentence shows that Milo understands that the revenge he decided to take was not entirely necessary. And at the end of the play, only a few minutes later, the police do arrive. Had Milo decided to allow the police to exact his revenge, instead of playing his game, he might still be alive.
Faced with Inspector Doppler, Andrew tries to explain what happened. He tells Doppler that Milo, despite his disappearance, was not murdered by him
DOPPLER- Was there a struggle here two nights ago' ANDREW In a manner of speaking, yes It was a game we were playing DOPPLER A game? What kind of game' ANDREW It's rather difficult to explain It's called Burglary DOPPLER Please don't joke, sir Doppler/Milo's matter-of-fact response to Andrew's seemingly insensible statement is a reminder that real adults don't play games, and if they do, they don't play games when it comes to serious matters. Doppler/Milo, or most sane adults, could not imagine grownups constructing a game around emotional torture and murder.
Doppler/Milo further pushes the point of Andrew's complete irresponsibility in his game fixation. He notes that Andrew seems to think everything is a game, even marriage. Andrew's response is telling: "Sex is the game with marriage the penalty. Round the board we jog towards each futile anniversary. Pass go. Collect two hundred rows, two hundred silences, two hundred scars in deep places." Such a speech, brief though it is, belies Andrew's assertion that he doesn't care if his wife is having an affair with another man Doppler further notes that torturing a man hardly constitutes a game and accuses Andrew of childlike behavior. But Andrew again has a justification: "I have played games of such complexity that Jung and Einstein would have been honored to have been asked to participate m them." Through his numerous games, he has "achieved leaps of the minds and leaps of the psyche unknown in ordinary human relationships "
In the second trick that Milo plays on Andrew— making him find the evidence that would frame him for Tea's murder—the playing of the game itself is emphasized The clues that Milo provides for Andrew are riddles that Andrew must first solve. Only then will he find the bracelet, Tea's shoe, and the murder weapon, which offers his only chance to save himself. Milo watches Andrew find the evidence and scathingly points out Andrew's sick interest in game playing. "You're loving it. You're in a high state of brilliance and excitement. The thought that you are playing a game for your life is practically giving you an orgasm."
Andrew only finds release and satisfaction through game. As demonstrated through his marriage, he is unable to form meaningful human relationships. Although Andrew maintains that the reason he has turned his "whole life into one great work of happy invention'' is because he is "rather a solitary man," the truth is far sadder. Andrew is alone because of his own emotional bankruptcy Convinced that Milo is "my sort of person" or a "games-playing person," Andrew pleads with Milo to stay with him. "You and I are evenly matched We know what it is to play a game and that's so rare. Two people coming together who have the courage to spend the little time of light between the eternal darkness—joking." His subsequent plea, "I just want someone to play with," shows his deeply repressed, abject loneliness
Milo coldly turns down Andrew's request. Instead he makes fun of the very foundation of Andrew's life, the detective story. After he leaves the room to fetch Marguerite's fur coat, Andrew once again resorts to a game. It is one he has played before, that of holding a gun on Milo the "thief " Milo scoffs at Andrew for that"old burglar game," but he does not understand that Andrew is desperate. He no longer has his game, for his best game was played with Milo, and Milo not only won but also threw in his hand and left the game. Nor does he have anything else, as Milo rightly noted: "you have no life to give anyone—only the tricks and shadows of long ago." Milo has crossed the line. Andrew could tolerate Milo's attempts to steal his wife and disparage his masculinity, but now Andrew is at the edge when he says to Milo, "you mock Merridew." This time he shoots with real bullets. The game is over Milo speaks the play's fitting last words: "Game, set and match!"
Source: Rena Korb, Critical Essay on Sleuth, in Drama for Students, The Gale Group, 2001
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1525
During the 1920s, mystery stories became extremely popular with the reading public. These works offered readers a stylized form of escapism that encouraged them to believe that even after viewing the devastation of World War I some sense of ultimate order in human experience existed. They found comfort in the detective's abilities to re-establish this sense of order by routing out the evil characters in these fictions and bringing them to justice. Mel Gussow m an article for the New York Times notes that in 1970 Anthony Shaffer both parodied and employed traditional murder mystery devices in his award-winning play, Sleuth Yet Shaffer's play promotes a more modern sensibility than mystery stories did in the 1920s. His main characters are more complex and sinister, which makes his endings more unsettling. By the end of the play, the audience does not enjoy a sense of order restored. Instead they have gained a glimpse into the darker side of human nature.
The typical mystery story in the 1920s acknowledged the horrors of the past but looked forward to a peaceful future. When these stories focused on a crime, which was usually a murder, they reflected the evil that many readers found in the devastation of World War I. Yet, by sticking to an established structure, mystery writers gave then-audiences the assurance that a sense of order would be restored through the actions of the detective, who would provide a rational explanation for what had happened during the course of the story and who would also afford a sense of justice being served.
Critic David Grossvogel finds an example of this model m Agatha Christie's mysteries. He argues that her readers expect her stories to contain "a minor and passing disturbance," while taking comfort in the knowledge that "the disturbance was contained, and that at the end of the story the world they imagined would be continued in its innocence and familiarity."
Francis Gillen in an article on Shaffer for the Dictionary of Literary Biography, comments that in Sleuth, the author "has kept the classic detective story alive... with parody that is at once humorous, affectionate, and often sympathetic to that which it burlesques. Shaffer explains to interviewer Gordon Gow in an article for Plays and Players, "I admire the skill of Agatha Christie, and indeed many other writers of that time, John Dickson Carr, Dorothy Sayers." In the interview with Gussow, Shaffer comments that his goal in Sleuth was to present a send-up of Agatha Christie and the "cozy crime" genre and "at the same time to use it—to have my cake and eat it too.''
Shaffer employs several elements of the mystery genre in the play. The action revolves around an incident of betrayal, a common central plot in mystery stories. As Shaffer pits Andrew Wyke and Milo Tmdle against each other in a battle of wills and wits, he incorporates discoveries, reversals, and, ultimately, the arrival of the police—all conventional structural devices in this genre.
Shaffer, however, also makes important changes that produce a nontraditional denouement. Gerald M. Berkowitz, in his overview of Shaffer's works for Contemporary Dramatists, notes that in Sleuth Shaffer overturns the traditional English country house mystery, "a whodunnit in which a crime is committed and the audience tries to guess which of several suspects is the criminal, while the author carefully directs our suspicions in the wrong directions." Shaffer, he suggests, presents an nontraditional structure in a traditional setting The play takes place in the typical English country house but is structured as a"whodunwhat, where not only the identity of the criminal but the nature of the crime indeed, the reality and reliability of everything we've seen with our own eyes is part of the mystery."
Berkowitz adds that while Shaffer adopts the conventional techniques of the mystery story, he complicates them by multiplying the puzzles and red herrings (misdirections) and "dresses them in an entertaining mix of psychology . . social comment, .. in-jokes... and black humor." Ultimately these techniques highlight the harsher post-war attitudes about the reality of human nature All the characters are found to be guilty of crimes; no one is innocent. The ending therefore becomes ambiguous, for although all the pieces of the puzzle now fit together, readers are left with an unsettling vision of evil. Thus, no true sense of order can be restored.
Shaffer explores the psychological conflict between the two central characters as they each struggle to gain a superior position. They do this through the use of games that initially appear relatively harmless but turn out to be quite lethal. Shaffer explained to Gussow that the play "is not just a thriller, it's serious.'' He points out that the subtext focusing on two people committed to the playing of games is "nightmarish," suggesting "that if people take fantasy for reality, and act upon it, it must end in disaster." The games become an illustration of the hollowness at the core of each character.
Gillen notes that Andrew uses games "to keep others at a distance in order to hide [his] own emotional bankruptcy . . to disguise his lack of genuine sorrow at losing his wife." He adds that "like the members of a culture glutted with violence or pornography, [Andrew requires] greater and greater extremes to allow [him] to feel at all" Milo notes the childishness of Andrew's game playing after Andrew asks him, "What's so sad about a child playing?" To this Milo responds, "Nothing, sir—if you're a child."
Later in the play, Milo notes that Andrew plays games in order to inflict humiliation on others. This becomes Andrew's motivation for the game he plays with Milo. His ultimate goal in his plan to convince Milo to participate m the insurance scam is to try to regain a sense of superiority over Milo after the younger man has stolen his wife. Since he can no longer prove his manhood through his sexual prowess with women, Andrew becomes obsessed with winning the complex tricks he plays on Milo. The younger man notes this unhealthy obsession when he tells Andrew, "The thought that you are playing a game for your life is practically giving you an orgasm." However, Milo becomes caught up in the same intense desire to beat Andrew at his own game after he loses the first game and feels emasculated His sexual energy is then rechanneled into a new game, whose goal is to destroy Andrew's pride. Yet both men ultimately are destroyed by their monoraamacal obsession with winning.
Shaffer employs deception to keep the audience guessing about the real nature of the two main characters. At first, both appear to be reasonable men who have come together in an adult manner to discuss their relationship with Andrew's wife. Andrew proposes a plan that seems to solve both their problems: Milo's lack of money and Andrew's desire to make sure his wife doesn't come back to him. However, Milo soon discovers that Andrew's generosity is only a mask to cover up his overwhelming need for revenge. Andrew also reveals his racism when he criticizes Milo's Jewish-Italian heritage, since he, as an English gentleman, clearly feels that he is superior to Milo.
After Andrew succeeds m terrorizing Milo to the point where the younger man is pleading for his life, Milo reaches a turning point. He now becomes as obsessed as Andrew in his need to take revenge. He explains that at the point when he thought that Andrew was going to kill him, he "gave himself to death.'' As a result, he claims,"I've been tempered by madness. I stand outside and see myself for the first time without responsibility." Now, he insists, "my only duty is to even our score." Thus he tries to emasculate Andrew by telling him that he has strangled the elder man's mistress after she willingly had sex with him.
Traditionally, mysteries present characters who can be judged by the end of the story as clearly good or evil. The good ones discover the true nature of the evil characters and bring them to justice. The despicable character of the murderer becomes evident in his victimization of the innocent. Shaffer both adopts and inverts this plot technique in Sleuth. He creates a situation where one character victimizes another. However, as Gillen notes, there is a moment in the play "when the perpetrator and the victim become identical and then exchange roles. Milo becomes as fascinated as Andrew with the game and, like Andrew, is destroyed by it.'' Although the police do arrive at the end of the play, no sense of order is restored to the audience, since they have been presented with no characters who display a sense of morality as a counter to the immorality exhibited by the other characters. Through his clever reworking of the conventions of the mystery genre, Shaffer leaves his audience with the disturbing sense that they have seen human nature at its basest, that even the English, who pride themselves on their honorable character, can be revealed to be truly evil.
Source: Wendy Perkins, Critical Essay on Sleuth, in Drama for Students, The Gale Group, 2001.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2293
Shaffer's Sleuth could easily be described as a parody of eariier detective plays, such as those by Agatha Christie. When Sleuth opened, Christie's Mousetrap had been on stage in London for nearly twenty years. In spite of this long run, audiences still returned to see the play again and again. There is a comfort in the familiar, and that is what Christie's work offers. Traditionally, the detective play has come to represent certain tried and true expectations; among these is the certainty that the murder will occur just before the end of the first act. with the second act then devoted to the solving of the whodunit. Before the opening of Sleuth in February 1970, audiences could trust in the playwright to follow this pattern. Certain clues were provided, characters and motives were clearly established, and the audience depended on the honesty of the playwright to mislead but not deceive.
With Sleuth, however, a new genre was created. The new comedy thrillers subverted all the audience's expectations. The detective play became a game, one in which all the rules were neither clearly established nor explained. In the past, the detective play had provided a game for the audience to solve, but now the play had become the game, with the characters playing games on one another, and, in turn, the playwright playing games with the audience. With the advent of this new theatre genre, solving the whodunit on stage became more challenging and entertaining, as comedic wits and deception replaced tradition. The audience no longer recognized old familiar characters and plot devices, and there were new puzzles to decipher.
Sleuth is all about playing the game and playing it well. Andrew Wyke writes detective fiction, so he sees himself as the consummate game player. He creates characters and situations, giving them implausible scenarios and making them plausible. He reasons that if this can work in his fictional world, it can also help him create the perfect revenge against his wife's lover. But while Andrew is a worthy protagonist, Milo Tindle proves himself to be an admirable adversary. The first act, where the audience might expect the introduction of characters and motives, culminating in a murder, serves as Andrew's opportunity to play the game, with Milo as an unsuspecting victim.
In the second act, Milo recreates the game, and Andrew is thrust into the role of victim. Although Milo is not a willing participant in Andrew's game initially, he easily co-opts the genre and proves he can create a game as worthy as Andrew's. In fact, Milo is so effective that Andrew invites him to stay and continue to play, telling Milo, "Don't go. Don't waste it on Marguerite. She doesn't appreciate you like I do. You and I are evenly matched " It is the exchange of wits that makes Milo so attractive to Andrew, and it is the wittiness of the game that makes Sleuth so attractive to the audience This exchange of wits creates the comedic tone of the comedy thriller and is largely what was missing from much of the earlier detective fiction, where only occasional humor was evident. However, while the audience willingly laughs at many of the exchanges between Andrew and Milo, the murder that ends the play brings an abrupt halt to both comedy and laughter. Although the witty exchanges have served to disarm the audience, the play has always been about murder, with comedy used to replace the traditional clues that were used to entertain the audience.
Much of what makes Sleuth a comedy is its self-conscious parody of its own genre. In "Murderous Games: The Self-Conscious Art of the Comedy Thriller,'' Marvin Carlson calls Sleuth the first fully developed example of a new genre, the comedy thriller that uses a self-conscious parody of the detective genre and dramatic illusion as a means to recreate the detective genre. The comedy comes from Andrew making fun of himself and of the genre. The dramatic illusion is provided to mislead the audience. There is no crime to solve because no crime takes place until the last moments of the final act, but the audience is not aware that no crime has occurred until halfway through the second act In truth, the murder of Milo is almost unexpected. The audience is enjoying the comedy and enjoying the game. The opportunity for murder occurred at the end of act one, with the illusion of murder, and so no one expects murder to occur at the play's conclusion. This is just one more aspect of the parody that the play presents.
Carlson suggests that Sleuth even parodies itself, with Andrew using Detective Merrydew, a character that he created, to parody the genre. However, this use of self-conscious parody is not entirely new to drama. The play-withm-a-play has long been a staple of drama. Shakespeare used this device in several plays, most effectively in Hamlet, as a means to unmask a murderer. Thus its use by Shaffer not only pays homage to earlier playwrights, but it is an appropriate use, since Shaffer's topic is murder. In Sleuth, the audience gets the detective thriller within the detective thriller, and so the genre is recreated yet again.
Within this new genre, the whodunit is the least important aspect of the play. The audience clearly sees whodunit in the final scene. Instead, all that matters is the use of wit and game. Carlson argues that the audience's attention is diverted from "the traditional question of discovering the murderer's identity'' and instead is refocused on "complex and ingenious plots designed to provide the reader with continual surprise and mystification." Just as Hamlet helps to rewrite"The Mousetrap'' in Hamlet as a way to catch his father's murderer, Andrew Wikes rewrites the detective story as a way to plan a murder. Carlson suggests that characters such as Andrew, who apply their "literary skills to real crime," are co-creators of the work, going so far as to assume disguises and to commit fake murders. These characters, then, become actors in their own work, assuming roles to create a fiction or a play that parodies the genre, until in the end, they become the genre and the parody. The line between playwright and character becomes blurred as the character assumes the mantle of creator, parodying the playwright's role. All of this subterfuge depends on the audience's cooperation. Carlson refers to the audiences of the new comedy thriller as "accomplices," who must keep the secrets of the plot, refusing to divulge the machinations of the playwright to an unwary public.
In Deathtraps, Carlson expands on his discussion of detective fiction to focus on the effectiveness of the comic thriller. In responding to early criticism of Sleuth, Carlson insists that the new detective plays are only suggesting a new way to create mystery. The new comedy thriller is no more deceptive than plays by Christie, only the means of telling the story has changed. The murder still occurs at the end of the first act, but in Sleuth, the murder is not real. The fake murder becomes a parody of murder that subverts the game. Murders that are not real and detectives that are fake all lead up to a real murder but not at the end of the first act, where the audience would have the treat of witnessing the great detective solve the crime. Instead it occurs at the end of the second act, after the audience has already learned the details and the identities of those involved in the crime. In Sleuth, Shaffer creates a new sub-genre of detective fiction that depends on the audience's acceptance of illusion as a substitute for formula. The formula has always been the most comforting aspect of detective fiction.
With a Christie play, such as The Mousetrap, the murderer is always the least likely suspect, the one the reader or audience invariably fails to suspect. The playwright has provided all the clues, with no deception on the part of the writer. The audience can solve the crime, if they can read the clues correctly. This does not happen in Sleuth, because the clues are not honest. The playwright has deliberately deceived his audience. In traditional detective fiction, part of the appeal is in the reliability of the puzzle. For instance, Christie fans know they can rely on a solution that is plausible and yet one that completely escapes them until the play's conclusion. The least likely suspect is too often the murderer, or is he? It is the solving of that equation that keeps audiences guessing and coming back for more And it is that complexity and familiarity that account for Christie's popularity and longevity among detective story lovers. That there is still an audience for the traditional whodunits is clear, since Christie's play continues to be a staple in London theatres nearly fifty years after its debut.
How then, can the popularity of this new genre be accounted for, the comedy thriller, whose very premise is unpredictability? In part, the answer lies in the play's use of illusion to keep the audience involved. Initially the audience does not recognize that what is occurring on stage is illusion. In fact, it does not become clear until the middle of the second act that all that they have seen on stage is illusion. At that moment, the audience might scramble to find their programs, searching frantically for the names of the actors who are playing Detective Doppler, Detective Sergeant Tarrant, and P. C. Higgs. This frantic search turns up a series of names, but yet these roles are themselves illusions, as are the actors who play them. Carlson refers to this deception as a "direct he in the program'' that extends so far as to include fake biographies of actors who do not exist. All this deception is a necessity if the audience is not to be disappointed. Much of the enjoyment in detective fiction is trying to solve the puzzle; if there is no puzzle, there is no purpose in the play Carlson argues that Sleuth has made it even more difficult for audiences to trust what they think they know is truth, especially if that truth appears in the program. The audience still expects to see a murder, and they still expect that a crime will be solved, but the evolution of the detective genre has recreated the ways in which these events occur. Illusion and deception have replaced traditional clues, but the guessing of who will be the victim and who will be the murderer are still essential elements of detective fiction. This aspect of the detective genre is one that the audience expects and in which Sleuth does not disappoint.
Part of the humor of the new comic thriller depends, as Carlson suggests, on a sort of self-conscious parody of the genre. That is certainly true, but much of the humor in Sleuth also clearly focuses on issues of class. Andrew thinks that Milo is low-class, an immigrant whose father was little more than a shopkeeper, and so he is insulted that his wife prefers this low-class "commoner" to Andrew's own refined elegance. However, while Sleuth is a parody of detective fiction, the reality is that the whole genre of detective fiction becomes a parody of British society. In "The Detective Novel of Manners," Carolyn G. Heilbrun maintains that within the detective genre there exists a genre that she refers to as the Detective Novel of Manners (DNOM), in which the very novel is set within a world of "upper-class moral and social principles." This emphasis on social stratification is certainly applicable to detective theater, which also centers itself in this world of "gentry, aristocracy, professional, or upper-middle classes." Heilbrun defines the DNOM as containing "clear class demarcations of English society: prep schools, public schools, university, small villages with their clear, unquestioned social hierarchy, and above all everybody's knowing his or her place." Heilbrun contends that this genre flourished in the period before so many immigrants entered British society and that the genre has disappeared in recent years But in truth, the genre has simply evolved to fit these new circumstances.
Sleuth still embraces this DNOM in the creation of Andrew, that artistic professional who puts class above even his own well-being. However, the character of Milo encompasses that new immigrant class, who poses such a threat to Andrew's concept of social trudi that he must be murdered. The British social class, in which everyone knows his or her place, has always been a staple of detective fiction, but in the new comedy thriller, class evolves to include a principle character who is not of the aristocracy and who becomes the de facto hero. Milo. In this respect, Shaffer's new sub-genre deviates even more from the traditional genres than Carlson suggests.
With the establishment of a new genre, the audience must first learn all the new rules, recognizing that characters might not be so easily defined and that the playwrights might deliberately have set out to deceive and to subvert Rather than the protagonist uncovering a murderer, the protagonist is the murderer. The audience is always forced to question what they have seen, since they cannot trust a new genre that defines itself by creating illusions. But one thing does remain the same. Although the comedy thriller has thwarted the audience's expectations and subverted the familiar genre of detective theater, the capture of the murderer establishes the play's resolution. The protagonist will not be rewarded for his deeds In spite of its subversion of traditional detective fiction, Sleuth fulfills the expectations of detective theater, while creating a new, more complex genre to entertain the audience.
Source: Shen E. Metzger, Critical Essay on Sleuth, in Drama for Students, The Gale Group, 2001.