Is it too late to wish everyone a Happy New Year? I’ve been pretty behind on reviews, so I feel a bit like I’m still in 2020. However, I’ve finally posted all my reviews for the 2020 Vintage Mystery Extravaganza challenge at My Reader’s Block, so it’s time for my wrap-up post! Challenge participants were asked to read at least five books that engaged with the so-called Rules of Murder propounded by Ronald Knox and S.S. Van Dine. I participated in the Golden Age level of the challenge (all books published before 1960) and read the following 10 books:
- Nicholas Blake, A Question of Proof — breaks Rule #14, “There must be but one detective.” In this book, the investigating is split pretty evenly between the official detective, Nigel Strangeways, and his friend Michael Evans, who is trying to prove his own innocence.
- Craig Rice, Home Sweet Homicide — breaks Rule #11, “There must be no love interest.” Though the main sleuths are children, there is a prominent romantic subplot between their mother and the policeman in charge of the case.
- Patricia Wentworth, Grey Mask — breaks Rule #16, “Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story.” “A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story.” In this book, the villain is the leader of a criminal secret society (not a spoiler; the mystery is the identity of the criminal mastermind).
- Georgette Heyer, Detection Unlimited — complies with Rule #12, “The detective novel must have a detective in it.” The detective is a police inspector.
- Anthony Berkeley, Not to Be Taken — engages with Rule #4, “No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used.” Bev clarified that any book that uses poisons would count here, and this novel centers around a murder by poisoning.
- Ngaio Marsh, The Nursing Home Murder — breaks Rule #6, “No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.” “The culprit must be determined by logical deductions–not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession.” As I recall, the detective stumbles upon the true culprit by accident, and there’s no particular reason to focus on that person rather than the other suspects.
- Anthony Berkeley, The Piccadilly Murder — breaks Rule #10, “Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.” I can’t really say more without spoilers, but the solution to the mystery hangs upon two people looking very similar.
- Elizabeth Daly, Deadly Nightshade — engages with Rule #18, “A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide.” The death of a police officer in connection with the mystery appears to be an accident, but that may or may not be the case!
- Patrick Quentin, A Puzzle for Fools — breaks Rule #20, which lists a number of overused plot devices, including “the word association test for guilt.” The protagonist of this novel literally uses that exact device to narrow down his list of suspects. Fortunately, the ploy is unsuccessful.
- Dorothy L. Sayers, The Nine Tailors — breaks Rule #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.” No disrespect to Sayers, but the passages on bell-ringing in this novel are certainly a side issue, and a fairly tedious one unless you happen to be a campanologist!
As always, I very much enjoyed my reading for this challenge, and I look forward to signing up for the 2021 vintage mystery challenge in the coming days!