Thursday, March 16, 2006

Rules for detective stories

Twenty rules for writing detective stories (1928) by S.S. Van Dine Over at one of my favourite blogs, Another 52 books , Bibliophile reviews some novels by John Dickinson Carr and Georgette Heyer in detective mode. Bibliophile mentions the classic 1928 rules for writing detective stories, by "S S van Dine"(although she mentions the rules in the Heyer post, they apply also to the Dickson Carr post from what she says and what I remember of DC's plots). I have read these rules before but, being reminded of them, went to read them again. They are still pretty cool today, on the whole. Bibliophile refers to Heyer breaking rule 3 "There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar". Well, that rule would eliminate the vast proportion of post-1928 crime fiction. Bibliophile says she may return to this list in a future posting: I hope she does as what she says will be a good read. In the meantime, many current authors of the genre could do well to remind themselves of these rules. It is frustrating when they are broken (well, not rule 3), for example when the villain is unmasked and you can't remember who they are because they appeared briefly in chapter 2 and not again thereafter (Janet Evanovich); or when the denoument relies on a conversation between two characters that the reader is not told about (Laura Lippman). Also of delight is rule 20, which lists "a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective story writer wil now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime." One of these is the dog that does not bark in the night, a cliche even in 1928, it seems.