Monday, March 29, 2021

About S. S. Van Dine and Philo Vance


S. S. Van Dine is a pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright (1888-1939).

The six Collier spiderweb design books (at right in above photo) sat on my parents' bookshelf for years. My mother was a great book club joiner, so perhaps that's where they came from. The spiderweb design always seemed creepy to me as a kid. In later years I found there were six additional S. S. Van Dine titles, and picked them up one by one until I had all twelve. Apparently Colllier only produced six reprints in the spiderweb design.

This blog will give you a post for each one - characters and synopses. (click to see all) Perhaps you will find them interesting as well!

Title List:
  1. The Benson Murder Case (1926)
  2. The Canary Murder Case (1927)
  3. The Greene Murder Case (1928)
  4. The Bishop Murder Case (1929)
  5. The Scarab Murder Case (1930)
  6. The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
  7. The Dragon Murder Case (1933)
  8. The Casino Murder Case (1934)
  9. The Garden Murder Case (1935)
  10. The Kidnap Murder Case (1936)
  11. The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1938)
  12. The Winter Murder Case (1939)
Other resources:

You may find references online to a 13th novel, The Powwow Murder Case. Wright started outlining this story but died before it could be written. A publisher's dummy was made up as a salesman's sample (with the first four pages of the story inside), complete with a cover. Photos of this "13th Philo Vance" appear now and then. These photos were taken from an auction site which sold the item in October 2020.

The auction site described it thus:

S. S. Van Dine. The Powwow Murder Case. A Philo Vance Story. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1937. First edition, the only known copy of any printed portion of this unfinished novel. Octavo. viii, 1-4 pages. In the publisher's unusual binding of full black cloth, boards, stamped in red (the spine is so thin, that there is no stamping on the spine), with the usual format of text on the front board, but the rear board is stamped in two vertical lines in blind, with the intended layout for the spine stamped in red between the blind stamping. In the publisher's mock-up dust jacket, which had the intended layout of the front and rear covers as well as the spine (there isn't any text or artwork for the jacket flaps, which are blank). 

Here's what we know about the story, taken from the file card image on the dust jacket:

Barrett Farmer, 99 East 66th Street. Murder: Stabbed and thrown over Fort George cliff. Body found near north end of Harlem River Speedway. Sergt. Heath (Homicide Bureau) and District Attorney's office.

Wright had begun dictating the story in 1937. It was "presumably to involve mysticism and ritual as the cabala is mentioned in the early pages."* He reportedly only finished two or three chapters before lapsing into a period of writer's block.

This artifact sold for $2500 in 1981*, so you can imagine what it brought in 2020!


*from Alias S. S. Van Dine by John Loughery 

The Greene Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1928) #3

Major characters:

  • Philo Vance, dilettante detective
  • John F. X. Markham, district attorney
  • Mrs. Tobias Greene, matriarch
  • Julia Greene, eldest daughter
  • Stella Greene, daughter
  • Ada Greene, youngest daughter
  • Chester Greene, eldest son
  • Rex Greene, younger son
  • Sproot, Greene family butler
  • Gertrude Mannheim, cook
  • Dr. Arthur Von Blon, family doctor

Locale: New York City


It seems an intruder to the Greene home has shot and killed Julia Greene, and wounded her sister Ada Greene. Their brother, Chester Greene, asks District Attorney John F. X. Markham to investigate personally, as he feels the routine police inquiry is inadequate. Markham invites Philo Vance to come along. The intruder entered and left the home without leaving a trace other than footprints in the snow outside. The question is why the intruder - if bent on burglary - even bothered to go upstairs where the family was sleeping, when the valuables were downstairs?

As soon as the investigation begins, two more murders follow .. Chester Greene and Rex Greene. Now it seems someone is trying to wipe out the Greene family, one by one.


This is a good diminishing-pool-of-potential-victims novel as the Greenes are eliminated one by one, with no apparent motive. As Van Dine novels go, not overly complex and Philo Vance stays relatively focused without wandering off into abstract monologues on irrelevant matters too often.

Clues are provided throughout as to the murderer. Initially, they misdirect the reader into thinking a certain person must be it - a nice piece of red herring.

A numerical list of clues is provided (there are 98) which is a bit tedious for the summary-before-the-big-reveal. 

It is a bit disappointing when things are revealed in the denouément which had not been revealed to the reader previously. It seems the house has a unique architectural feature which is kept a secret from the reader until the end. Also a complicated mechanical device - which I found hard to believe -  is used to give the murderer an alibi.

Extensive footnotes (many in German, no less!) are provided. I had often wondered whether the names/events in the footnotes were real or just made up - and one caught my eye: a reference to the book Murder at Smutty Nose by Edmund Lester Pearson; since Smutty Nose Island and its famous murder are only about 10 miles away from me. A quick lookup found the book and author are, indeed, factual.

Notable quotes:

"This affair is too complicated to be untangled by the unravelling of details."

"The person who sat in that library night after night and read strange books by candlelight is the key to everything."

Philo Vance: "The intruder must have left the room."
Sibella Greene: "I suppose he must have, if he's not there now."

The Bishop Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1929) #4

Major characters:

  • Philo Vance, dilettante detective
  • John F. X. Markham, district attorney
  • Professor Bertrand Dillard, physicist
  • Belle Dillard, his niece
  • Sigurd Arnesson. his adopted son, professor of mathematics
  • Adolph Drukker, scientist, author, and hunchback
  • Mrs. Otto Drukker, his mother
  • John Pardee, mathematician and chess expert
  • J. C. Robin, archer
  • Raymond Sperling, civil engineer
  • John E. Sprigg, college student
  • Madeleine Moffat, a little girl

Locale: New York City

Synopsis: Philo Vance and D. A. Markham are called out to a report of murder on a long narrow archery range, sandwiched between the Dillard home and the Drukker home. The deceased is J. Cochrane "Cock" Robin, and immediate suspicion falls on Raymond Sperling who was present. It is noted that "Sperling" means "sparrow", and the murder follows the nursery rhyme of "Who killed Cock Robin?"

The Dillard house and the Drukker house back up to one another. Professor Dillard lives with his daughter Belle (here is a love triangle, both Sigurd Arnesson and John Pardee enamored of her). Adolph Drukker is a strange sort who prefers to spend his days playing games with the neighborhood kids, and lives with his mother who may have seen the murder.

Other murders follow, with nursery rhyme tie-ins. After each, a note is sent to the newspapers signed "The Bishop".


This is my third read, and each time I like it better. There is a small cast of characters, so it is easy to keep track of the players. 

The description of the houses/archery range plan in Chapter 2 cries out for the customary S. S. Van Dine crime scene map. It is even mentioned as being "attached" on p. 28 but it is not there. In my hardcover Collier spiderweb edition it finally appears in Chapter 18 (p. 241). So if you are just starting the book, check ahead to Chapter 18 to see if you have a crime scene map.

The book is heavy with higher mathematics and chess references, but still understandable even if you are neither a mathematician nor a chess player. You  can skip the mathematics/chess/footnotes and not lose any of the story; in fact, eliminate them and this could be an Agatha Christie or Ellery Queen plot. 

As usual, plenty of irrelevant footnotes take up valuable space. Several times while reading Van Dine I have thought "this footnote can't be real", and looked up some of his references; to find they are factual. If he had left these additional research bits out, he likely could have written several more books!

Chapter XXI ("Mathematics and Murder") can be skipped entirely if you are not into space-time continuums, as it is a lecture on that subject. The only relevant piece is the last sentence.

The dénouement is enjoyable, fooling the reader by seeming to point at one person after another, with a surprise twist on each. 

Vance's method of dealing with the killer at the end is an eyebrow-raiser, certainly out of bounds today; but S. S. Van Dine readers are used to the killer never making it to an arrest.

The Scarab Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1930) #5

Major characters:

  • Philo Vance, dilettante detective
  • John F. X. Markham, district attorney
  • Dr. Mindrum W. C. Bliss, head of the Bliss Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
  • Meryt-Amen Bliss, his wife
  • Benjamin H. Kyle, philanthropist and art patron; dead as story begins
  • Robert Salveter, assistant curator of the museum, nephew of Benjamin Kyle
  • Donald Scarlett, technician for the Bliss expeditions
  • Anapu Hani, family retainer of the Blisses, a mysterious Egyptian 
  • Brush, butler for the Blisses
  • Dingle, cook for the Blisses

Locale: New York City

Synopsis: Benjamin Kyle, wealthy art patron, is discovered dead in the Bliss museum, having been struck in the head by a heavy statue. Immediate evidence points at Dr. Bliss as the murderer: a scarab stickpin belonging to Dr. Bliss is found with the body. 

Kyle had been financing the Bliss expeditions to Egypt. His will leaves his fortune equally to his nephew, Robert Salveter, and Meryt-Amen; much younger wife of Dr. Bliss. Salveter and Meryt-Amen enjoy writing each other little notes in hieroglyphics which no one else can read, leading to an assumption of intimacy. Anapu Hani is also closely attached to Meryt-Amen.

It turns out Dr. Bliss was drugged at the time of the murder, by addition of opium into his coffee.


This is a tight mystery, with the action confined to just these few characters. It is enjoyable as suspicion passes around from one to another. There are several instances of things-not-as-they appear which are all clearly explained at the end. A lot of Egypt-ese, but that does not detract from it. As Philo Vance novels go, he sticks to relevant investigation and does not wander off for pages at a time displaying his erudite knowledge.

The Dragon Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1933) #7

Major characters:

  • Philo Vance, the dilettante detective
  • John F. X. Markham, District Attorney
  • Ernest Heath, sergent, Homicide squad
  • Sanford "Monty" Montague, engaged to Bernice Stamm
  • Rudolf Stamm, hard-drinking fish collector, and owner of the Stamm estate
  • Matilda Stamm, his mother, who seems to predict the future with 100% accuracy
  • Bernice Stamm, his daughter
  • Gale Leland, neighbor and friend of the family
  • Alex Greeff, stockbroker and guest of the Stamms
  • Kirwin Tatum, guest of the Stamms
  • Teeny McAdam, guest of the Stamms
  • Ellen Bruett, writer of love letter to Sanford Montague
  • Ruby Steele, actress
  • Trainor, the Stamm butler
  • Mrs. Schwarz, nurse-companion to Mrs. Stamm
  • Doctor Holliday, Stamm family physician

Locale: Inwood (northern Manhattan), New York City

Synopsis: This is a locked-room mystery, but the room is a pool! Sanford Montague dives into the "Dragon Pool" (a small pond) on his property and never comes up. Where did he go? Is he dead or alive? He is thought to have run off with Ellen Bruett, who wrote a note arranging a meeting that night. When he does not reappear, the pool is drained, and his body is not in it. However, there are strange foot and claw marks on the hard bottom of the pool.

Matilda Stamm, elderly mother of hard-drinking Rudolf Stamm, is convinced there is a dragon that lives in the pool, and protects the Stamm family by killing its enemies. This is supported by the fact there have been two deaths in the pool already. She states the dragon then flies away with its victims to dispose of their bodies elsewhere.

Nearby are several deep glacial pot-holes. The body of Montague is found in one, mutilated by claws, and apparently dropped from a height. Some time later, Alex Greeff goes missing. His body is likewise found in the same place, again mutilated and dropped.

Philo Vance rounds up the key to a family vault located near the pool, and enters it to find that it is connected with the deaths.


This is my favorite Philo Vance novel. The murders are so unique and outlandish, and all evidence points to the legendary dragon being the culprit. Philo Vance seeks out the truth by eliminating all other possibilities. The novel stays on topic for the most part, except for a several page diversion as Vance displays his knowledge of various tropical fish.

See also this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.

The Kennel Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1933) #6

Major characters:

  • Philo Vance, the dilettante detective
  • John F. X. Markham, District Attorney
  • Ernest Heath, sergent, Homicide squad
  • Archer Coe, collector of Chinese ceramics
  • Brisbane Coe, his brother
  • Raymond Wrede, friend of the Coes
  • Hilda Lake, niece of Archer Coe, engaged to Raymond Wrede
  • Signor Eduardo Grassi, officer in the Milan Museum of Oriental Antiquities
  • Liang Tsung Wei, the Coe cook
  • Gamble, the Coe butler
  • Luke Enright, an importer
  • Major Julius Higginbottom, dog breeder
  • Miss MacTavish, a Scottie dog
  • Doris Delafield, owner of Miss MacTavish

  • Locale: New York City

    Synopsis: District Attorney John F. X. Markham is summoned to the scene of a murder, and as usual, invites his more perceptive friend Philo Vance along. At the residence of Archer Coe, they find he is apparently dead in a locked room - they can see him sprawled through the keyhole. They break in to find he has been shot. The medical examiner arrives, and finds Coe was dead long before he was shot, adding another mystery. 

    During the investigation an injured Scottie dog is discovered in the house, and no one recognizes it, or knows how it got in. There is also evidence a valuable Chinese vase has been broken, and an inferior piece substituted in its place. A search is started for Coe's brother, Brisbane Coe, who was in the house when all this happened. Eventually he is found - dead - in a closet in the home. 

    The Scottie dog seems to be the key. If they can trace the dog and find its owner, some light can be shed on the murders.


    Despite the title, the book does not have any connection to a kennel, other than a brief visit to one late in the book. This is a locked-room mystery with a pile of loose ends: a victim who was dead before he was shot, a brother also murdered, a mystery dog injured, a broken vase, a missing weapon. 

    While delving into the worlds of ancient Chinese ceramics as well as dog breeding, the reader need not be knowledgable of either to enjoy the book. These side topics are minor. The big mystery is why and how is a dead man shot inside a locked room. The rundown of clues is standard police procedure and leads to the solution. 

    The book includes the usual S. S. Van Dine lectures and footnotes on obscure topics which may be skipped over. Was he being paid by the word?

    See also this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.

    The Kasino Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1934) #8


    Mar 29 2021: I have intentionally misspelled the C-word here, as automated bots were finding this page and posting links to gambling sites. RM

    Major characters:

    • Philo Vance, the dilettante detective
    • John F. X. Markham, District Attorney
    • Ernest Heath, sergent, Homicide squad
    • Mrs. Anthony Llewellyn - prominent social worker
    • Richard Kincaid - her brother, and owner of the Kasino
    • Amelia Llewellyn - her daughter, an art student
    • Lynn Llewellyn - her son, a night club lizard and gambler
    • Virginia Llewellyn - Lynn Llewellyn's wife, formerly Virginia Vale, stage star
    • Smith, the Llewellyn butler
    • Morgan Bloodgood - croupier at Kincaid's Kasino
    • Dr. Allan Kane, friend of the Llewellyns
    • Dr. Rogers

    Locale: New York City

    SynopsisPhilo Vance receives an anonymous letter indicating some harm is to come to members of the Llewellyn family and they should be watched, especially on a certain date. Vance contacts D.A. John F. X. Markham. Vance then visits Kincaid's Kasino on the indicated date, to keep an eye on Lynn Llewellyn. While gambling, Lynn collapses and a doctor immediately recognizes it as poison. No sooner is he hospitalized when word comes that his wife, Virginia Llewellyn, has died at home from poisoning.

    Soon after that, Amelia Llewellyn also is poisoned, but recovers. The common thread to the poisonings is that each victim drank water just before falling ill.


    This mystery is quite enjoyable for a S. S. Van Dine story. Philo Vance is more human and less pedantic than we have seen him in previous books, with none of the long, diversionary sermons on antiquities or other unrelated topics. As this is the eighth book in the series, perhaps the writer had taken some of the reviews into consideration by this point. 

    The plot takes on an interesting twist as suspicion is placed in one direction, and it appears the solution is at hand - but at the last moment it turns out to be a false trail. The final scene contains high tension and an alarming development as Vance unmasks the killer.

    See also this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.

    The Garden Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1935) #9


    This is #9 of 12 novels.

    Major characters:

    • Philo Vance, the dilettante detective
    • John F. X. Markham, District Attorney
    • Ernest Heath, sergent, Homicide squad
    • Ephraim Garden, professor of chemistry
    • Martha Garden, his wife
    • Floyd Garden, their son
    • Zalia Graem, friend of Floyd
    • Cecil Kroon, friend of Floyd
    • Woode Swiftnephew of Ephraim & Martha, a too-heavy better
    • Lowe Hammle
    • Madge Weatherby
    • Bernice Beeton, nurse

    Locale: New York City

    Synopsis: The Gardens live in a penthouse of a NYC skyscraper. They also own the garden area on the rooftop. They periodically have a party with their horse racing enthusiast friends, and place bets by phone while listening to the races on the radio.

    Philo Vance gets a phone call tipping him off that the upcoming party bears watching. He is a slight acquaintance of the Gardens and attends the party. Woode Swift has a habit of placing large bets, then going to the rooftop garden during the race to listen to the results in solitude. Swift plunges and places $10,000 on the horse Equanimity - who loses. Moments after news of the race results are on the radio, a shot is heard from the roof. Swift is found dead. Vance takes a quick look at the body and declares it murder.

    It turns out there were two successive shots: the killer shot, and a red herring shot, but which is which? The close timing of the two is critical.

    During the investigation phase, nurse Bernice Beeton is discovered trapped in the "vault", a secure storage room, with a broken bottle of bromine gas intended to do her in. Vance finds her in time.

    Next matriarch Martha Garden is found to have died overnight in bed, with her prescription bottle empty beside her. 

    Vance sets up a trap to catch the killer. 


    The book provides some interesting insights into the horse racing world, and the description of the gathering, placing bets and listening to results on the radio is an interesting insight into the world of the 1930's. The book follows the usual Van Dine formula of the wealthy family whose members do not trust each other. When the matriarch, Martha, announces to the family that she is some annoyed and is going to change her will the next day, you just know she won't make it though the night. (Moral: If you are going to cut someone out of your will, do it before you tell them). 

    The killer is unmasked in a typical Van Dine trick - nothing the police would condone these days, but back in the 1930's Van Dine's police just sat back and watched the fun; knowing in the end that Vance's vigilante justice would mean no need for a prosecution.

    Side note: 
    I was peeved that Lowe Hammle, introduced as "fifty or thereabouts" is listed as "elderly" in the list of characters!

    For a thorough synopsis and review, I invite you to see Bev Hankin's review on her blog, MY READER'S BLOCK.

    The Kidnap Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1936) #10


    Major characters:

    • Philo Vance, dilettante detective
    • John F. - X. Markham, District Attorney
    • Ernest Heath, sergeant of the Homicide Bureau
    • Kaspar Kenting, playboy, gambler, kidnap victim
    • Kenyon Kenting, Kaspar’s brother
    • Madelaine [Falloway] Kenting, Kaspar’s wife
    • Mrs. Andrews Falloway, Madelaine’s disabled mother
    • Fraim Falloway, Madelaine’s sickly, idle brother
    • Porter Quaggy, friend of the Kentings
    • Weem, the Kenting butler
    • Eldridge Fleel, attorney and friend of the Kennings

    Locale: New York City


    D.A. John Markham visits Philo Vance and invites him along to an investigation at the Kenting family home, known as the “Purple House”; where a kidnapping has been reported.

    Kaspar Kenting appears to have been kidnapped from his room. His window is open, with a ladder found leaning against it. Initial inquiries show Kaspar had gambling debts of $50,000. A ransom note is found demanding $50,000. Is this a real kidnapping, or did Kaspar stage it to get the money from his family? Vance surmises Kaspar is already dead.

    The ransom is to be left in a hollow tree in Central Park at midnight. A fake bundle of money is left in the tree and the police watch and wait. A figure comes to retrieve the money - whom I shall not reveal here.

    No sooner do Vance and the family return to the Purple House when Kaspar’s wife, Madelaine Kenting, is found missing also - again from her room, with the open window, and the ladder again leaning against the house! Things happen quickly. Attorney Eldridge Fleel is shot at as he leaves the house (by a fusillade from a machine gun, yet all the bullets miss). Then Kaspar’s body is found in the East River.

    More threatening notes arrive. One of them contains a clue leading to an empty building in the Bronx. Vance and Heath encounter the gang with deadly results.


    The kidnapping case is full of the usual cliches: a ransom note comprised of words cut from a newspaper, and a demand to leave the ransom in a hollow tree at midnight. So far, it looks like a plot for the Hardy Boys. The odd notes are: How does one kidnap a non-cooperative full grown adult out a bedroom window and down a ladder? Why is the Homicide Bureau out in force investigating, when there is no homicide? Then, how is the kidnap victim’s wife abducted in the same manner?

    Vance’s character is quite different from before. No longer content to sit back smoking and making long, rambling pedantic sermons; this Vance is out chasing kidnappers and engaging in gun battles. He disposes of the three of the gang, with the usual “Oh well, it’s for the best” response from the authorities.

    Fair-play readers will take some issue with three characters not being introduced until the final denouement, as well as the breaking of Fifth Commandment of Robert Knox's Rules of Fair Play: "No Chinaman must figure in the story".

    This is the last of the S. S. Van Dine novels written in the usual sequence. The following two (The Gracie Allen Murder Case and The Winter Murder Case) were reverse-written after the films were made. Please also note pejorative terms used for persons of Chinese ancestry as well as African-Americans.

    The Gracie Allen Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine (1938) #11


    Major characters:

    • Philo Vance, dilettante detective
    • John F. - X. Markham, District Attorney
    • Ernest Heath, sergeant of the Homicide Bureau
    • Gracie Allen, employee of a perfume factory
    • George Burns. perfume mixer
    • Jimmy Puttle, perfume salesman
    • Mrs. Allen, Gracie’s mother
    • Philip Allen, Gracie’s brother
    • Daniel Mirche, Maitre-d at the Domdaniel cafe
    • Dixie Del Marr, singer at the Domdaniel cafe
    • Owl Owen, head of a criminal ring
    • Benny the Buzzard (Beniamino Pellinzi), escaped prisoner
    • Delpha (Rosa Tofana), a fortune teller
    • Tony Tofana, her husband

    Locale: New York City


    Sergeant Heath interrupts a visit of Philo Vance and John F.X. Markham with the news that Benny the Buzzard has escaped from prison. Benny had threatened Markham’s life at his sentencing trial years earlier.

    Van Dine (the narrator) and Philo Vance head north of the city for an outing. While walking in the woods, Vance encounters legally-blonde Gracie Allen, and they have a long, flirtatious conversation. She reveals she works in a perfume factory with mixer George Burns and salesman Jimmy Puttle.

    Later Vance is dining at a restaurant and observes Gracie Allen and Puttle at another table. Meanwhile a man sits by himself observing. Vance assumes, correctly, it is the jealous Burns. Gracie's brother, Philip Allen, works in the kitchen of the restaurant.

    While the authorities are keeping their eye out for Bennie the Buzzard, a man is found dead in the restaurant's office - and is identified as Philip Allen. In his pocket is found a cigarette case belonging to Burns, who is then held on suspicion when the cause of death is found to be poison.


    Despite the title, Gracie Allen is not the murder victim. She is a sweet but dim-witted woman Vance encounters in a forest clearing, and much attention is given to their repartee. The first portion of the book comprises more of a romance novel, with Gracie creating her own love triangle; using Puttle as a pawn to get Burns jealous. The middle portion has all the action, taking place at the Domdaniel Cafe, complete with secret doors and red herrings aplenty. Vance encounters the dying Owl Owen, allegedly a crime boss, but much better suited as a philosopher. They engage in a long, protracted esoteric conversation about the meaning of life, which forms the trademark S. S. Van Dine deviation to run the page count up and prevent the plot from moving along. There is a bit of unfair play with the reader regarding the dead man, but overall not a bad title; not withstanding the long complicated denouement at the finale.

    Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories by S. S. Van Dine

     The following article is from the corresponding page at It also appears (in my edition, at least) in the back of The Winter Murder Case (Grosset & Dunlap, 1939). 

    The detective story is a kind of intellectual game. It is more--it is a sporting event. And the author must play fair with the reader. He can no more resort to trickeries and deceptions and still retain his honesty than if he cheated in a bridge game. He must outwit the reader, and hold the reader's interest, through sheer ingenuity. 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 of Credo, based partly on the practice of all the great writers of 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 wilful tricks or deceptions may be played on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.
    3.There must be no love interest in the story. To introduce amour is to clutter up a purely intellectual experience with irrelevant sentiment. 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. Americans are essentially humane, and therefore a tiptop murder arouses their sense of vengeance and horror. They wish to bring the perpetrator to justice; and when "murder most foul, as in the best it is," has been committed, the chase is on with all the righteous enthusiasm of which the thrice gentle reader is capable.
    8.The problem of the crime must be solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic sÈances, 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 machine. 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, who, at the outset, pits his mind against that of the detective and proceeds to do mental battle. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn't know who his co-deductor 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. For a writer to fasten the crime, in the final chapter, on a stranger or person who has played a wholly unimportant part in the tale, is to confess to his inability to match wits with the reader.
    11.Servants--such as butlers, footmen, valets, game-keepers, cooks, and the like--must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. It is unsatisfactory, and makes the reader feel that his time has been wasted. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person--one that wouldn't ordinarily come under suspicion; for if the crime was the sordid work of a menial, the author would have had no business to embalm it in book-form.
    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. Here the author gets into adventure fiction and secret-service romance. 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 (with its ubiquitous havens, mass protection, etc.) to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds in his jousting-bout with the police.
    14.The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must 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. For instance, the murder of a victim by a newly found element--a super-radium, let us say--is not a legitimate problem. Nor may a rare and unknown drug, which has its existence only in the author's imagination, be administered. A detective-story writer must limit himself, toxicologically speaking, to the pharmacopoeia. 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. And one of my basic theories of detective fiction is that, if a detective story is fairly and legitimately constructed, it is impossible to keep the solution from all readers. There will inevitably be a certain number of them just as shrewd as the author; and if the author has shown the proper sportsmanship and honesty in his statement and projection of the crime and its clues, these perspicacious readers will be able, by analysis, elimination and logic, to put their finger on the culprit as soon as the detective does. And herein lies the zest of the game. Herein we have an explanation for the fact that readers who would spurn the ordinary "popular" novel will read detective stories unblushingly.
    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; but when an author of a detective story has reached that literary point where he has created a gripping sense of reality and enlisted the reader's interest and sympathy in the characters and the problem, he has gone as far in the purely "literary" technique as is legitimate and compatible with the needs of a criminal-problem document. A detective story is a grim business, and the reader goes to it, not for literary furbelows and style and beautiful descriptions and the projection of moods, but for mental stimulation and intellectual activity--just as he goes to a ball game or to a cross-word puzzle. Lectures between innings at the Polo Grounds on the beauties of nature would scarcely enhance the interest in the struggle between two contesting baseball nines; and dissertations on etymology and orthography interspersed in the definitions of a cross-word puzzle would tend only to irritate the solver bent on making the words interlock correctly.
    17.A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by house-breakers and bandits are the province of the police department--not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. Such crimes belong to the routine work of the Homicide Bureaus. 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 play an unpardonable trick on the reader. If a book-buyer should demand his two dollars back on the ground that the crime was a fake, any court with a sense of justice would decide in his favor and add a stinging reprimand to the author who thus hoodwinked a 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 gem¸tlich, 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.
    1. 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.
    2. The bogus spiritualistic sÈance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away.
    3. Forged finger-prints.
    4. The dummy-figure alibi.
    5. The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar.
    6. The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person.
    7. The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops.
    8. The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in.
    9. The word-association test for guilt.
    10. The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unravelled by the sleuth.