Review of “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories” (1928)


S. S. Van Dine (writer).

Read in 2021.

A nicely written explication and formalization of something in which I have no interest: The “record of crime and deduction” as purposely distinct from all other literature. The text is deeply morbid: Murder is “truly beautiful”, a murder story is “gemütlich”, and not a single word is said about fright, horror, loss, bereavement, mourning or even punishment or rehabilitation. Ordinary people and ordinary motives are anathema because the story “must reflect the reader’s everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.” For the same reason, science fiction, fantasy and even political motives are all banned; the reader would be “defeated” in their illusory competition with the author by such conceits, because they are different from everyday experiences. The subtext is powerfully Freudian. The intended reader is one who loves murder, loves a puzzle, and has no imagination.

References here: “The Detective Story Decalogue” (1929), Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (2016).

text non-fiction