Monday, May 12, 2014

"The Detective Story Is Only a Game"

G. K. Chesterton once wrote an article called "How to Write a Detective Story" (1925); along the way, GKC over-modestly denies he ever wrote detective stories.

It was reprinted in BESTSELLER MYSTERY MAGAZINE (March 1960), from which come these brief excerpts:
For the detective story is only a game; and in that game the reader is not really wrestling with the criminal but with the author.
Now some literary detectives make the solution more complicated than the mystery, and the crime almost more complicated than the solution. The explanation is something like this: "The vicar's first curate did indeed intend to murder him and loaded and then lost his pistol, which was picked up by the second curate and placed on a particular shelf in the vestry to incriminate the third curate, who had a long and lingering love affair with the niece of the organist, who is not really the niece of the organist but the long-lost daughter of the vicar; the organist, being in love with his ward, transfers the pistol to the coat pocket of the second curate, but the coat is accidentally put on by the first curate, who pulls out the pistol in mistake for a pocket handkerchief, and the vicar mistaking him for the real owner of the coat (who had done him a deep and complicated injury twenty years ago in Port Said) rushes furiously upon him (the pronouns are getting mixed like everything else) so that the holder of the pistol (whoever he may be by this time) is forced to fire in self-defense and the vicar falls dead."
A great part of the craft of writing mystery stories consists in finding a convincing but misleading reason for the prominence of the criminal, over and above his legitimate business of committing the crime.
. . . in the classification of the arts, mysterious murders belong to the grand and joyful company of the things called jokes.
- A short essay, "Chesterton on Detective Fiction," is HERE.
- A previous ONTOS article concerning GKC's ideas about mysteries is HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

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