Sound Money Kill

[Excerpt from an excerpt]

Sol Yurick

(January 18, 1925 – January 5, 2013)


Sol Yurick is a New Yorker who has written three novels, including The Warriors, Fertig and The Bag. Harper & Row will publish Sound Money Kill. Mr. Yurick says of his new novel, “It began when I reviewed In Cold Blood for The Nation. Something about the way Capote handled the book irritated me. A certain haunting ambiguity . . . an evasion . . . an inability to get to the facts . . . traditional, surreal. It ended when Capote threw his great party. What are they celebrating, I asked, and from that point I conceived the idea of Sound Money Kill, the Marxist detective novel, in which the real killers will be exposed once and for all. Add this: Legal insanity is when you kill for any motive other than money; and, there is no legal category for political crime as such. Maybe, after all, the execution of the Clutters was a sentence, legally executed and the killing of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock the crime . . . and maybe, after all, the killer was . . . well, that’s what will emerge, won't it?”

[Editor introduction, p. 299]

Now God collars Satan in the form of Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, and says, "Sees’t thou my favorite servant, Herb Clutter there?" And so it begins. A kind of one-night compression of the plagues, the illnesses, the boils, the destruct, the doubts and testings, all those seeds in one night. . . . Now nothing was stolen . . . nothing to steal. Yet, of job, we see that everything was stolen. . . . So then the real dialogue of Why? The motivation is carried out in Truman Capote's book, In Cold Blood . . . continues there and in the popular press, on television, on the radio . . . always with the whining lament, Why Did They Kill? It was a very popular case: why should it bother me? Not our kind of case at all. Yet, to a Marxist detective there are no “accidents of fate.” Admitted. And what have we said, saying this? Cases like these hint at the contradictions in society. And we do solve crimes by the scientific use of dialectical materialism. But is it the sign of a major contradiction? No: no political significance.

The book. In Cold Blood. It’s typical of its kind. Capote. Class thinking. I remember that face: blond hair over the young, sensitive brow, the limp body lounging on the couch, wearing a checkered vest. . . . Now he’s grown older, grosser, this epicene-masked blackglassed face, this “I know a secret” smirk. The whole production irritated me. No, not so much the book, not so much the simple-minded analysis, the childish bragging about the almost perfect memory, the talk about the "criminal mind," not even the publicity and the money that came out of it, and the pseudo-expertise, and those liberal fools, those intellectuals vaporing about the shocking rise of violence, the climate of violence which is conducive to. . . . Not so much any of those things . . . but then what? The public’s response to it. Why respond? Who was Clutter to them? Why did they feel the terror personally?

The Party ought to identify with the public’s need for mystery-solution. The criminology of everyday life. We have paid too little attention to that vital chapter in the Manual of Marxist Detection. Stories in the papers; The New Yorker writes . . . Time explores, The New York Times dwells on, endlessly, Esquire reinvestigates . . . and so on. . . . The product, the fear, swallowed, and the speculation market stimulated. . . .

Why go on about it at such length, why the empathetic terror-response if it was, after all, a marginal killing by a pair of psychopaths? They cannot bear the area of the unresolved Why, the unassimilated mystery, just cannot bear it . . . and yet need it. They will pick over this case for a hundred years as they have over the other persistent cases. . . . How many times have we solved and resolved the mystery of Lizzie Borden? Marginal? Irrational? Marxists, after all, have a different theory of psychology and motivation. We don’t have to give the Perry Smiths unconscious dreams cribbed from a Flaubert . . . we know the true content of dreams.

And isn’t it the master criminologist of all time, Marx himself, who says, “The criminal breaks the monotony and everyday security of bourgeois life. In this way he keeps it from stagnation and gives rise to that uneasy tension and agility without which even the spur of competition would get blunted. Thus he gives a stimulus to the productive forces.” The public, roaring out its fear and feeding off its surplus anxiety and trembling. . . .

And the anger sets me to trembling too, sets the detective to feeling, wanting to rush out and tell the fools, no, no, you’re not paying attention to the right crimes . . . if they’re even crimes.

I send the Party Detective Bureau no memos . . . they would reject one anyhow. Better to be alone, untroubled in my small office on Union Square. Live in it. Live in the building. No rent. The Party pays that. Anyway, we own it. A couch. I sleep on it. A desk. Coffee and pastry in the morning. Not very healthy. Role calls for me to be a drinking man, so there is always a drawer with a half-empty bottle in it. A filing cabinet full of small and unimportant case dossiers. A ham sandwich at lunch. Sometimes, early, just before and during lunch, I go to the movies. Loew’s Union Square. Ornate Depression movie palazzo . . . which is in the building. Take the whole afternoon off. No, that was a long time ago. The theater-space’s been converted into offices. . . . All except for about six feet of it on the upper part of where the movie used to be. Or: a walk in the Square park below in Union Square. Walk up and down the walks and stop, sometimes, to listen to the disputatious clumps stationed at the strategic crosspaths of the Square, stirring up and renegotiating the problems of the world. Practicing Free Speech and Democracy. Still, I’m always shocked at how much the seedy contenders (and they are not always seedy . . . why there’s even a Wall Street broker who comes up some evenings) know. What streams of information and invective, statistics and hatred come out of those mouths. Passersby bent on shopping, or with their minds work‑drained, think them mad, stupid, idle, parasites, irrelevant. If they were really smart, what are they doing here? How come they’re not great legislators, statesmen, lawyers, even doctors? Join in it myself sometimes . . . it’s been so long . . . I shouldn’t argue business, but . . . there hasn't been a conference since, I think, 1953 . . . . And then, back to the office, to . . . unfaithful husbands, wives, that kind of thing, collect unpaid bills: appear seedy, menacing, big, squat, with ham hands, and do the system's dirty work to keep it running and to keep myself alive. . . . Sometimes screw some woman who comes in not wanting anything real done, but who has read too many detective novels.

It blunts your deductive tools to solve little crimes the bourgeois way. Console myself by solving cases in the head, like chess problems, to keep alert, solve them the Marxist way. Console myself by thinking that this is a cover for the real work of detection . . . which no longer goes on, for the Party’s really dead and therefore, I am dead. . . . Well, they used to say that a Communist was a dead man on leave. No. No. Sometimes one eats shit for us and tastes death for the Party, death and loneliness extended for many years. . . . No. For the office is an isolated outpost for the farflung and wideworld Marxist Detective Bureau upon whose manifest windows the world over (high over Union Square one can see) in gold letters, the sign (appearing in many languages), "Strictly Confidential, tracing, shadowing, locating, low rates‑quick results, lie detection specialists—electronic equipment (which was untrue because we have no budget for it and anyway, better methods), when the first man reaches the moon, we could be the first to follow him, marital problems”; and the picture of a badge, and an eye in a clock, and a Sherlock Holmes decal, standard figure bent over a footprint with a magnifying glass (which was real). But the real sign that identifies us is: in one corner a little scrawl saying The Private Eye with the Public Vision, and in the other corner, Founded, 1917. But matrimonials was what it was all about; surprise the husband (wife) in flagrante delicto as defined by the law, not necessarily the act.

Our real function is to solve political cases, cases the ruling classes have an interest in distorting: frameups, miscarriages of justice, executions in the guise of trials; we cry justice for the oppressed, expose corruption, expose the hollow lie that is American justice, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. Oh yes, we’ve solved and exposed a lot of cases; old victories: Sacco and Vanzetti, the Scottsboro boys, Tom Mooney and Warren Billings, the Joe Hill frameup, the Haymarket affair, the Rosenberg case. . . . But nothing big for a long long time. Isolation and emptiness can burn you out just as much as too much work. You can feel the juices evaporating into space, sparkling there, shining in the darkness, going black slowly with the blackness as it all finally overwhelms you. . . .

Still, maybe those were the wrong kinds of cases to work on. A waste of energy. No one’s mind is changed. Without a real police force, without a real court, without some place of redress . . . other than the future which vindicates our history . . . those sessions going on in the sweet by and by at this very moment, in our future time to come. . . . Think of the greatest detective of all time, Karl Marx (with his trusty assistant, Fred Engels) staked out in the British Museum Library, cut off from his base of operations which does not in fact yet exist (but will, rest assured, will), still tracking down . . . surrounded everywhere by the enemy. . . . In the popular imagination Sherlock Holmes was the greatest detective of all time, but the popular mind imagines what the ruling class wants it to imagine. . . . Marx found the crime; discovered the crime was, in fact, still going on, found the victim, enlisted his aid in fighting the crime. . . . The first principle of Marxist detection is . . . find the crime.

Still; would it do to initiate a new tendency? Write a report to the central committee of the detective bureau on this Clutter/4-Hickcock & Smith case? Not at all. Still, it kept bothering me. Something was wrong about the whole thing. All this energy and space in print, all this attention paid to this petit-bourgeois dilettante’s analysis of . . . what? Coming to what? Two sets of feet dangling, hanging (I knew how that sort of thing felt) in Kansas, Bleeding Kansas. . . . More was involved than that. I felt it. Instinct for these things. A Marxist instinct. Everyone asks why? Why do they ask why? Sense stirs to grow alive again after such a long while . . .

[pp. 301-306]

SOURCE: Yurick, Sol, “Sound Money Kill,” in Works in Progress; Number 5; edited by Martha Saxton & Andrea Starr (New York: Literary Guild of America: distributed by Doubleday, 1972), pp. 299-331.


I never forgot Sol Yurick, though he has seemed to be invisible for some time. Among the obits, I would begin with this one:

"Remembering Sol Yurick" by Samuel Fromartz, The Nation, January 16, 2013

It is interesting that Yurick’s disdain for Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is referenced several times. When I think of Yurick, my first thought goes to an enigmatic published excerpt from a novel that was never published, is never mentioned, and whose existence apparently nobody remembers: Sound Money Kill. I read the anthologized excerpt 40 years ago. It is a critical, satirical take on Truman Capote, the public’s fascination with sensational murder cases, but also the formulaic thinking and modus operandi of the Communist Party.  It takes the form of a first-person narrative by Hillrose, a lone-wolf agent of the Marxist Detective Bureau, who, thinking forbidden thoughts, wrestles with his doubts about Capote and the murder case in mental struggle with the Party’s line.

Ralph Dumain, 19 January 2013

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