A dastardly crime has been committed. It ought to be impossible! A colourful cast of characters all serve as suspects. The game is afoot! Who is clever enough to solve the mystery? The great detective, of course – the hero of the story – and the reader, too!
The Golden Age of Detective Fiction, which spanned the 1920s through the 1930s, was in many ways an early form of immersive gaming. The reader of a detective novel could expect a certain amount of predictability from their story; they could expect the author to “play fair”, by following a series of rules.
As time went on, these rules became more defined. Ronald Knox, a theologian and fan of the genre, was the first to make these rules official with his “Ten Commandments” of Detective Fiction*:
- 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.
- All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
- Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
- No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
- No alien or being of inscrutable motivation may appear in the story.
- No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
- The detective himself must not commit the crime.
- The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover.
- 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.
- Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.
To break any of these rules would have caused quite a stir in literary circles. Famously, Agatha Christie’s book The Murder of Roger Ackroyd scandalised the world by breaking one of the rules – but that’s enough of a spoiler. You’ll have to read it yourself!
You can expect most detective fiction through to this day to follow the rules laid down by Knox. Our escape games follow most of them as well. King of the Bootleggers is a whodunnit that involves a cast of colourful characters, while The Secret of Station House No. 4 will challenge your very notion of what makes a mystery…
*Some of the “commandments” have been modified from their original text. Attitudes were different in the early 1900s, and Knox used some terms and language that would probably be considered pretty offensive today. We’ve edited their words but preserved their intent!