Style and Technique

“The Whore of Mensa” celebrates the clichés of hard-boiled detective fiction. Sometimes Allen presents these clichés straight: “I turned and suddenly found myself standing face to face with the business end of a .38”; “He hit the ground like a ton of bricks.” Sometimes he adds a touch of silliness, as when “a quivering pat of butter named Word Babcock walked into my office and laid his cards on the table” and when Sherry arrives “packed into her slacks like two big scoops of vanilla ice cream.” Occasionally, he gives the expected a small twist: “I pushed a glass across the desk top and a bottle of rye I keep handy for nonmedicinal purposes.” Allen tops it all off by having Flossie arrested by a Sergeant Holmes.

Allen no doubt chose the detective form as the vehicle for his satire not only for its appropriateness for the prostitution plot and the literary allusions but also because of the importance of the vernacular in American crime fiction. Like Mark Twain, S. J. Perelman, and numerous other humorists, Allen enjoys distinctively American ways of saying things such as “I owned up” and “A five-spot cools him.” It is fitting that “The Whore of Mensa” ends with a parody of the master of the laconic, staccato American style, Ernest Hemingway: “Later that night, I looked up an old account of mine named Gloria. She was blond. She had graduated cum laude. The difference was she majored in physical education. It felt good.”