Monday, 7 July 2014

The Best Classes of Mysteries

Good Monday Morning! I was away last week--a day after my novel went on sale--on a personal emergency trip to Mexico City. But, I'm back and eager to get back to my writing and blogging routine.

Did you know that there are three classes of mystery?

(1) Fair-Play Whodunnit: We play along with the detective, solve the crime as the main character does.

In 1928, the writer Father Ronald Knox created a "Ten Commandments" of plot devices (Knox's Decalogue) that more or less codified the rules of the Fair-play whodunnit:
  1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow. 
  2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course. 
  3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable, and such a passage may only be in a house or building for which it is appropriate by age or purpose. 
  4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end. 
  5. No Chinaman must figure in the story. (I don't know why this rule exists.)
  6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right. 
  7. The detective must not himself commit the crime. (I think Agatha Christie broke this rule.) 
  8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader. 
  9. The stupid friend of the detective, the "Watson", must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader. 
  10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them. 
Example of a Fair-Play Mystery: Pretty much any Golden Age novel. Agatha Christie is a great fair-play mystery writer.

(2) The Clueless Mystery: We just have to read along because the writer doesn't provide enough clues for us to solve the mystery.

Example of a Clueless Mystery: Right from the beginning in A Study In Scarlet, despite Holmes describing the murderer's appearance and even how he got to the scene of the crime in detail from the clues in the room, nobody even slightly resembling the murderer turns up until the last chapter of the London-based narrative.

(3) The Reverse Whodunnit: We know who did and how it was done. We just have to read to the end to see if justice is served or if the criminal gets away with the perfect crime.

Example of a Reverse Whodunnit: Red Dragon and its sequel, The Silence of the Lambs. In both of them, we know fairly early on who the killer is, and learn more details as the FBI protagonists figure out the mystery.

What is your favorite type of mystery? What examples do you have of that type?

Source: TV Tropes
Photo credit: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)


  1. Hope everything is all right, Clarissa.
    I think I like the last one best.

  2. We watched Manhunter (the first Red Dragon movie) last night!

    The second is the only type of mystery I don't like. I like enough clues to make at least a guess, even if I'm wrong.

  3. Clarissa, hope all is okay after your emergency. Interesting post today. I had never thought about the different classes of mystery. I enjoy all three types, but I'd have to say the first is probably my favorite. I like trying to figure out who the killer is from the clues. Sorry it's too early for me to think of any examples.

  4. I'm with Diane--I read clueless mysteries, but none of them have really drawn me in.

    Hope all is well again for you.

  5. Clarissa - Good to see you're back and I hope everything's going better. Thanks for sharing this way of thinking about classes mystery. I've read all three, but I think I like the first and last the best. Somehow they just work better for me.

  6. I hope your trip to Mexico City went well and everything is OK. That rule "someone mentioned in the early part" is the most important. Dropping the murderer in half-way is irritating.

  7. Emergencies and pop up and must be attended. Hoping all is well.
    I'm not sure that I'm partial to a type of mystery, When well executed, I'm intrigued to follow along.
    I must say those 10 rules were rather interesting as well.

  8. Hope all is well, Clarissa. I am not partial to any type of mystery, I don't think. It just needs to grab me and not let go.

    I'm still wondering about the Chinaman. :)

  9. Hope everything is OK - glad you're back. I like all types providing the characters and stories are interesting.

  10. Clarissa, I don't know much about classes of mysteries though like everyone else I like a good mystery where something is happening all the time.

  11. I was always partial to the fair-play style. One of my fav authors was Tony Hillerman and though he did occasionally violate one of Knox's rules, the reader never felt cheated and the crime always made sense in the end.

    I hope things in Mexico City are better now.

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  15. I hope all is well with you, Clarissa.
    I prefer the first type of mystery, I like to try and solve it as I go along.
    I've just started reading your latest book today .... it's very, very good! :)

  16. I think I'm with the majority here - I enjoy class one and three, in different ways, but class two not so much.


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