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Related: crime - crime fiction - detective magazines - film noir

Writers: Arthur Conan Doyle - Georges Simenon - Edgar Wallace - Edgar Allan Poe

[In detective stories] "the truth of the problem must at all times be apparent — provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face-that all the clues really pointed to the culprit — and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying." --Twenty rules for writing detective stories (1928) - S.S. Van Dine

Illustration by Sidney Paget for "The Greek Interpreter", Strand Magazine, September 1893.
image sourced here. [Apr 2005]

Detective fiction

Detective fiction is a branch of crime fiction that centres upon the investigation of a crime, usually murder, by a detective, either professional or amateur. It is closely related to mystery fiction but generally contains more of a puzzle element that must be solved, generally by a single protagonist, either male or female.

A common feature of detective fiction is an investigator who is unmarried, with some source of income other than a regular job, and who generally has some pleasing eccentricities or striking characteristics. He or she frequently has a less intelligent assistant, or foil, who is asked to make apparently irrelevant inquiries, and who acts as an audience surrogate for the explanation of the mystery at the end of the story. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detective_fiction [Feb 2005]

Early archetypes of these stories were the three Auguste Dupin tales by Edgar Allan Poe: The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt, and The Purloined Letter. Poe's detective stories have been described as ratiocinative tales. In stories such as these, the primary concern of the plot is ascertaining truth, and the usual means of obtaining the truth is through a complex and mysterious process combining intuitive logic, astute observation, and perspicacious inference. As a consequence, the crime itself sometimes becomes secondary to the efforts taken to solve it. The Mystery of Marie Rogêt is particularly interesting, as it is a barely fictionalized analysis of the circumstances of the real-life discovery of the body of a young woman named Mary Rogers, in which Poe expounds his theory of what actually happened. The style of the analysis, with its attention to forensic detail, makes it a precursor of the stories about the most famous of all fictional detectives, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, who in turn set the style for many others in later years, including Holmesian pastiches such as August Derleth's Solar Pons.--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detective_fiction [Feb 2005]

Armchair Detective

An Armchair Detective is a term used for a fictional investigator who does not himself (or herself) visit the crime scene or interview witnesses; instead, he or she either reads the story of the crime in a newspaper, or has it recounted to him by another person. The first example of an armchair detective was Baroness Orczy's Old Man in the Corner, who sits in a restaurant and talks to an acquaintance about such cases, almost always finishing by revealing that he has solved the crime.

The term is sometimes used in a wider sense for detectives who send someone else out to do the leg work for them; Nero Wolfe is a primary example. However, some may argue that the essential characteristic of the armchair detective is that neither he/she, nor the reader, actually sees any of the investigation going on, so that complete fair play is ensured. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armchair_detective [Mar 2006]

Twenty rules for writing detective stories (1928) - S.S. Van Dine

via http://gaslight.mtroyal.ca/vandine.htm [Jul 2005]

(Originally published in the American Magazine (1928-sep),
and included in the Philo Vance investigates omnibus (1936).

by S.S. Van Dine
(pseud. for Willard Huntington Wright)

THE DETECTIVE story is a kind of intellectual game. It is more — it is a sporting event. And for the writing of detective stories there are very definite laws — unwritten, perhaps, but none the less binding; and every respectable and self-respecting concocter of literary mysteries lives up to them. Herewith, then, is a sort Credo, based partly on the practice of all the great writers of detective stories, and partly on the promptings of the honest author's inner conscience. To wit:

   1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.

   2. No willful tricks or deceptions may be placed on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.

   3. There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.

   4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It's false pretenses.

   5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions — not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.

   6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic.

   7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader's trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded.

   8. The problem of the crime must he solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic se'ances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.

   9. There must be but one detective — that is, but one protagonist of deduction — one deus ex machina. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem, is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn't know who his codeductor is. It's like making the reader run a race with a relay team.

   10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story — that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest.

   11. A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person — one that wouldn't ordinarily come under suspicion.

   12. 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: the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.

   13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. A fascinating and truly beautiful murder is irremediably spoiled by any such wholesale culpability. To be sure, the murderer in a detective novel should be given a sporting chance; but it is going too far to grant him a secret society to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds.

   14. The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure.

   15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent — provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face-that all the clues really pointed to the culprit — and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying.

   16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no "atmospheric" preoccupations. such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude.

   17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by housebreakers and bandits are the province of the police departments — not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.

   18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to hoodwink the trusting and kind-hearted reader.

   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. But a murder story must be kept gemütlich, so to speak. It must reflect the reader's everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.

   20. And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective story writer will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author's ineptitude and lack of originality. (a) 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. (b) The bogus spiritualistic se'ance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away. (c) Forged fingerprints. (d) The dummy-figure alibi. (e) The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar. (f)The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person. (g) The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops. (h) The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in. (i) The word association test for guilt. (j) The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth.


via http://gaslight.mtroyal.ca/vandine.htm [Jul 2005]

see also: 1928 - detective - fiction

Vidocq (2001) - Pitof

Vidocq (2001) - Pitof [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Vidocq is a 2001 movie, directed by Pitof, that pits the historical figure Eugène François Vidocq (played by Gérard Depardieu) against a supernatural soul-stealing monster called The Alchemist. It is notable as being the first major science fiction film to be shot entirely on digital film. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vidocq [May 2006]

Eugène François Vidocq (July 23, 1775 – May 11, 1857) was a French criminal who later became the first director of Sûreté Nationale and one of the first modern private investigators. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eug%C3%A8ne_Fran%C3%A7ois_Vidocq [May 2006]

As for Poe, Julian Symons went so far as to say, "He had read Vidocq, and it is right to say that if the Mémoires had never been published Poe would never have created his amateur detective [C. Auguste Dupin]." --http://www.strandmag.com/vidoq.htm [May 2006]

The sole inspiration for Poe's Dupin appears to be derived not from any fictitious figure, but rather from a real-life Frenchman named Eugene Francois Vidocq (1775-1857). --http://www.bookrags.com/notes/poe/PART18.htm [May 2006]

Vidocq's legendary crime-solving reputation was also lauded in Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue and in Herman Melville's Moby Dick. The fugitive in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations was also inspired by Vidocq's real-life exploits. --http://www.vidocq.org/vidocq.html [May 2006]

See also: 2001 - detective - science fiction film - Gerard Depardieu - French cinema

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