I happened upon this list, previously unfamiliar to me, at the delightful exhibit Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction at the British Library this past winter (the exhibit just closed in May).
I found it a humorous juxtaposition (though perhaps ever-so-slightly out of date…) to my “Rules for Golden Age Mystery Fiction,” found in my essay The Golden Age of Detective Fiction.
What are your rules for mysteries, dear readers? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and I hope you enjoy reading these unique “Commandments” as much as I did.
Ronald Knox was a Catholic priest (hence the “Commandments” perhaps) and mystery writer in the early part of the twentieth century who belonged to the Detection Club, a society peopled by such legendary mystery writers as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, G. K. Chesterton, and E. C. Bentley.
- 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 Chinaman must figure in the story.
- No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
- The detective 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.