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1\. General Qualities of the Detective Story

  • But as a keynote to the story we would write let us remember that its success
  • depends first of all upon the interest of the mystery. Perhaps the voice of
  • the public as expressed by the literary critic best tells us what is desired.
  • To quote from the review of a very recent Detective Story:
  • > "The new physician sets about a stealthy investigation. He finds that in the
  • neighboring house, behind the blue wall, something odd is in progress—the
  • doors are locked against him. The eager question which keeps the reader
  • hurrying through the four hundred pages is 'What will he discover?' As often
  • happens, the solution scarcely supports the weight of the mystery. The story
  • is a fantastic tangle, written with polished literary craftsmanship. But it is
  • too ingenious in its opening to live up to its promises. It leaves one
  • disappointed."
  • It is a blot on our escutcheon that we should be accused of often presenting
  • an explanation too slight to support the mystery. Even polished literary
  • craftsmanship cannot make up for the unpardonable sin of a disappointing
  • solution. But this by no means disparages the value of literary excellence.
  • This ought ye to have done, but not to leave the other undone. With all the
  • power that in you lies make for literary craftsmanship; but strive equally
  • hard to perfect a plot which though built on accepted even if hackneyed
  • models, has a few points of absolute originality.
  • Notice in Anna Katharine Green's books how there is invariably some clever
  • original touch which has never been used before. In, for instance, "Initials
  • Only," the young woman is shot, fatally, but no bullet can be found. As we
  • discover later, instead of a bullet, the assassin used an icicle! Could
  • anything be more unexpected? The sharp needle of ice pierced her heart and of
  • course melted immediately and left no trace.
  • But the novel and original touches, though greatly desirable, are incidental
  • to the plot, which should be built on the strong and rational foundations used
  • by our best writers.
  • As examples of excellent construction, read, "Hand and Ring," "The Mystery of
  • a Hansom Cab," "The DeBercy Affair," "That Mainwaring Affair," or "The
  • Accomplice." All of these are plotted entirely in accordance with the best
  • usage, and may serve as models of construction.
  • In the case of short-stories, such definite and careful building of the plot
  • is less imperative, as the author has room only for the single incident of the
  • crime, and a short and swift account of its solution.
  • Specially ingenious plots, like "Big Bow Mystery" or "The mystery of the
  • Yellow Room," may not be achieved by everyone; but all may pay heed to the
  • soundness of construction required by even the simplest plot.