I cut my teeth on Nancy Drew; my first grown-up books were Conan Doyle and Christie. The mystery is mother’s milk to me–the foundation for everything I am as a writer. But did you know the mystery has rules? Oh, yes, indeed. In 1928, S. S. Van Dine wrote an article called “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories”. (If you’re not familiar with Van Dine, he wrote the Philo Vance mysteries; Vance was played by William Powell in the film adaptations.) The rules make for interesting reading–mostly because it’s good to know the rules thoroughly before you break them. In fact, Van Dine’s rules were being blithely shattered by writers while he was compiling them. Authors like Christie and Sayers loved to play with the formula and took great pleasure in subverting expectations. Didn’t we all gasp with surprise when we first realized the narrator was the murderer? That ALL the suspects did it? That the culprit was, in fact, the police inspector?
So, settle in with a nice cup of tea and read the rules for yourself. My particular favorite is the one that servant cannot be the murderer because the villain must be a “worthwhile person”.