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May 05, 2008

Comments

Patti Abbott

I wonder how hard it would be to write something original and follow all those rules. They seem very limiting, don't they?

John Cecil

"I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective story writer will now avail himself of… (e) The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar."

Drats… that's been done before?


Seriously though, what is true then is probably true now. Too many books decide to conceal essential info as a device to keep the reader reading, which is not effective for the readers who read books.

I.J.Parker

I also think breaking those rules is a good thing. Puzzle solving is a parlor game. There are better things to do with a novel. The "mystery" should be a very minor part of what keeps the reader turning pages.
Besides, I shall always resent being made to follow other people's rules. Who did the man think he was?

Patrick Balester

An excellent list, and one I've never seen before. # 15 is one I always attempt to follow, but I was unaware of this 'formal list'. This could be quite useful as I am currently working on a new manuscript.

One of the best suspense novels I ever read violated rule # 7, and I was so engrossed in the story, it wasn't until after I had finished it and went back through the book that I realized it!

Jon Jermey

Van Dine's list and several others -- including a tongue-in-cheek addendum of my own -- can be found on the Golden Age of Detection Wiki at http://gadetection.pbwiki.com/

Whether or not empathy in detective fiction is a 'good thing' depends surely on whether or not empathy makes it more or less entertaining. My impression is that for every reader who has been attracted to reading about detectives and victims they could cry over, at least one other reader has given up in disgust when their puzzle plots became bogged down in emotional claptrap. Let's allow for different types of writing, by all means -- but let's also recognise that something unique and valuable has been lost with the demise of classic detective puzzle fiction.

Steve Steinbock

It's hard to know how serious van Dine was taking himself when he wrote this list. The man was almost as funny as he was pompous. (Y'know the "S.S." in his name actually stood for "Steam Ship"? Seriously!)

Patrick, I'm guessing that the thriller to which you refer is Gaudy Night. I'm pretty sure nobody died in that novel.

Another list of mystery rules is Monsignor Ronald Knox' "A Detective Story Decalogue." His list has some real gems, like "Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable" and "No Chinaman must figure in the story." Knox' list, like van Dine's, was a product of the times, was written with tongue in cheek, and yet still has insights that can help the modern mystery writer develop a solid plot.

Carl Brookins

Van Dine, Knox and others have posited enough rules to keep everyone in line for a hundred years. Van Dine is stuffier, Knox more amusing and Chandler "if it gets bogged down, have somebody come through a door, gun in hand" more on the practical side. Most of the "rules" are today more observed, thankfully, in the breaking, rather than the observation. As Bach, or maybe Beethoven is said to have observed to a student who objected to learning rules of musical composition , "one cannot effectively break the rules until one has learned them." A worthy observation.

Carl Brookins

Van Dine, Knox and others have posited enough rules to keep everyone in line for a hundred years. Van Dine is stuffier, Knox more amusing and Chandler "if it gets bogged down, have somebody come through a door, gun in hand" more on the practical side. Most of the "rules" are today more observed, thankfully, in the breaking, rather than the observation. As Bach, or maybe Beethoven is said to have observed to a student who objected to learning rules of musical composition , "one cannot effectively break the rules until one has learned them." A worthy observation.

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