I heard about the Detection Club a couple of weeks ago on the excellent Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast. It was a club that included all the great whodunnit writers of the 1930s, from Agatha Christie to GK Chesterton, and man, I think I would have liked going to one of their parties.
But I doubt they would have invited me, because my crime stores don’t always follow their 10 Commandments for Writing a Mystery. They wrote those rules down and expected their members to follow them so that they wrote the right kind of mysteries, which is both amazing and kind of terrible – and incredibly entertaining when you read them and realise how cheerfully many of them (especially Christie) broke the rules when it suited them.
(The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Ten Little Indians are like the biggest fuck-yous to the expectations of the entire whodunnit genre. They’re great.)
Anyway, below (and stolen from here) are the rules of the Detection Club, that must be followed to produce a good and proper mystery:
1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.
2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.[Editor’s note: At the time, trashy, mass-media mysteries always featured a character of Chinese descent. This rule meant the writer should avoid cliché plot devices, although yes, it sounds totally racist.]
6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.
8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.
9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.
Me, I broke at least two of these rules multiple times in The Obituarist and The Obituarist II.
And now I really want to break the rest of them. Preferably all in the same story.
A story about an angel detective, accompanied by her super-genius best friend, solving a murder in the Winchester House with the aid of her supernatural insights and intuitions – and where the sudden twist ending is the revelation that the killer was a pair of twin brothers, who used magic to disguise themselves as the angel’s best friend all along, who used an incomprehensible reality poison engine to commit the murder!
Or something like that.
I should probably make someone Chinese, but eh, that’s one I’m okay with leaving be.
Someone pay me to write this.
Hell, someone dare me to write this.
But not anytime soon, ‘cos I really have a lot on my plate right now.
…still. Man. That’s a tempting idea…
One reply on “Breaking all the rules”
Oh I dare you. I double dare you with a goddamn schnapps chaser. That’s gold! (And strangely enough I thought of ObII while I was listening to that segment.)