I picked up a great non-fiction book at the library last week entitled The Art of the English Murder by Lucy Worsley (who, up till now, I only knew from her great BBC TV series on Regency England). Not only did I enjoy reading about the fascination the British seem to have with murder mysteries (borne out by my own mother’s devotion to them!), but, as a huge fan of Dorothy L. Sayers, I particularly relished the chapter on the informal ‘Detection Club’ she helped set up in the 1920s-1930s. Members of this club included, in addition to Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Baroness Orczy, G. K. Chesterton and A.A. Milne (I had no idea he wrote a detective novel as well as his Winnie the Pooh books!). I also loved learning about the ‘ten commandments’ set out for members of the club (all writers of detective fiction) most of which are as applicable today as they were then (and a lesson to all mystery writers on what not to do!).
So here you are, for your enjoyment and edification, the ten rules of the ‘Detection Club’:
- 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.
- All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
- Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
- No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
- No chinamen must figure in the story (n.b. remember this was the 1920s…so I’m interpreting this as being a rule not to unjustly use or blame a foreign person in the book).
- No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
- The detective himself must not himself commit the crime.
- The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.
- 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.
- Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.
Now these rules, although sometimes broken, provided the cornerstone for the basis of ‘good’ detective fiction that members of the Detection Club all had to subscribe to (and apparently still do – for the Detection Club is still in existence according to the book and currently has about 60 or so members). I love them as I think they aptly display the rules of ‘playing fair’ with the reader that most of us appreciate when reading a good mystery.
So, my question to you is, if you were to form your own ‘Detection Club’ with your fellow writers, what rules would you have or add? Who would you choose to join your club?