Vintage Mystery Challenge 2020

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2020 Original post on MY READER’S BLOCK

Basic Level Commandments/Rules/Common Devices
1. The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know. (Knox/Van Dine #10) Now–I don’t want to encourage spoilers, so elements for eligible books may include any of the following: unreliable narrator/source of any sort (does not have to be the villain–may just be telling us fibs for their own purposes); criminal winds up being some random, marginal character or someone thrust upon the reader in the last half of the book; etc.
2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course. (Knox) The problem of the crime must be solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic seances (especially to frighten the culprit into giving himself away–see Van Dine #20), crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. (Van Dine #8) and The method of murder, and the means of detecting it must be rational and scientific. (Van Dine #14) Any book that includes a supernatural aspect (real or imagined) is fair game. 
3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable (Knox). A book with any amount of secret rooms/passages will qualify.
4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end. (Knox). No use of the hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops. (Van Dine #20) Any book that uses poisons, ingenious devices, hypodermics, etc. may count here.
5. No Chinaman must figure in the story. (Knox) Any book that features someone of Asian heritage in a prominent way–culprit, suspect, victim, witness, detective. Murder of Lydia by Joan A. Cowdrey
6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right. (Knox) The culprit must be determined by logical deductions–not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. (Van Dine #5) Any book where it seems that the detective has pulled his/her solution out of the air or where you are completely unsatisfied with the explanation may count. 
7. The detective himself must not commit the crime. (Knox) The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. (Van Dine #4). Again, to avoid spoilers, any book where the detective, a police officer, other law/justice-related person, or the narrator is suspected of the crime (not necessarily ultimately guilty).
8. The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover. (Knox) The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described. (Van Dine #1) No wilful tricks or deceptions may be played on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself. (Van Dine #2) The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent–provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. (Van Dine #15) Any book where you feel the detective is holding clues/knowledge back or you just feel like you were unfairly bamboozled by the author.
9. The “sidekick” of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly below that of the average reader. (Knox). Again–any book where you feel the narrator is not playing fair with the information given. 
10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them. (Knox) There shall be no final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent person. (Van Dine #20) Any book where twins or doubles figure. Impersonation of any sort. Mistaken identity. The Policeman’s Holiday by Rupert Penny (1937)
11. There must be no love interest. (Van Dine #3) Any book with love/romance as a prominent feature. [Just about any Patricia Wentworth, for instance)
12. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. (Van Dine #6) This is pretty much a free space–any mystery with a real detective in it (professional or amateur).
13. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. (Van Dine #7) Any mystery that does NOT have a murder in it–think burglary, kidnapping, forgery, spying (with no dead bodies mentioned), etc.
14. There must be but one detective–that is, but one protagonist of deduction–one deus ex machina. (Van Dine #9) Any book where you have more than one detective (loosely interpreted). For instance, books with an amateur detective working in concert with or separately from the official force. (Holmes & Lestrade; Lord Peter Wimsey and Charles Parker; etc.) The Hanging Captain by Henry Wade
15. A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. (Van Dine #11) To avoid spoilers–any book where a servant is important in any way–culprit, suspect, victim, vital witness, detective. The Billiard Room Mystery by Brian Flynn
16. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders. (Van Dine #12) Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. (Van Dine #13) A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. (Van Dine #17) Any book with more than one culprit, a professional criminal, OR with a reference to any secret society. The secret society does not have to be responsible for any murders done–just play a role in the narrative.
17. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no “atmospheric” preoccupations. (Van Dine #16) Any book you think goes on a bit much about the countryside, delves too deeply into psychology, or breaks Van Dine’s rule in any way.
18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. (Van Dine #17) Any book that features a death looks like accident or suicide–whether it winds up really being murder or not. The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr (1938) 
19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction–in secret-service tales, for instance. (Van Dine #19) Read a spy/espionage novel; military intrigue; international super-villains; etc.
20. The remaining over-used devices listed under Van Dine’s #20: Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect. Forged fingerprints. The dummy-figure alibi. The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar. The commission of the murder in a locked room after the poilice have actually broken in. The word association test for guilt. The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth. One book that employs any of these devices OR any device that you would argue has been over-used to the point of cliche.

Featured image from 10 Story Detective, Jun 1951. Artist Unknown. Obtained from