Thursday, June 18, 2015

Eliot’s Expectations

Way back in 2006, I posted on this page author S.S. Van Dine’s “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories,” which had originally been featured in American Magazine in 1928. I hadn’t realized until today, though, that essayist-playwright--a great fan of mystery and crime fiction, I hear--concocted his own five rules of “detective conduct” a year before Van Dine’s appeared. Curtis J. Evans provides this brief version of those “rules” in his blog, The Passing Tramp.
1. The story must not rely upon elaborate and incredible disguises. ... Disguises must be only occasional and incidental.

2. The character and motives of the criminal should be normal. In the ideal detective story we should feel that we have a sporting chance to solve the mystery ourselves; if the criminal is highly abnormal, an irrational element is introduced which offends us.

3. The story must not rely upon either occult phenomena, or, what comes to the same thing, upon mysterious and preposterous discoveries made by lonely scientists.

4. Elaborate and bizarre machinery is an irrelevance. ... Writers who delight in treasures hid in strange places, cyphers and codes, runes and rituals, should not be encouraged.

5. The detective should be highly intelligent, but not superhuman. We should be able to follow his inferences and almost, but not quite, make them with him.
Hey, I want to hear more about those “mysterious and preposterous discoveries made by lonely scientists.” Were those once regular occurrences in the genre?


Elizabeth Foxwell said...

I'm wondering if this is a swipe at Professor Challenger.

The Passing Tramp said...

Those lonely scientists, always up to something preposterous!