Monday, 15 February 2010

Mystery of the Broken Commandments

Well, I am still having computer and time issues, so here is another piece of nonsense. Normal service will resume on Wednesday.

In 1928 Ronald Knox, who was tired of some of the detective story trends of the day, laid down his rules for detective fiction. Some of them sound really strange to today's reader. So, a few years ago, I decided to give myself the challenge of writing a story that included all the elements you're not supposed to have. First, though, Ronald Knox's original rules:

The Ten Commandments of Detection, laid down by Ronald Knox in 1928:

1. 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 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.

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.

6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

7. The detective himself must not commit the crime.

8. The detective is bound to declare any clues upon which he may happen to light.

9. The stupid friend 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.

10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

And now, the story. With apologies to...well, just about everybody. And, by the way, I used most of these names subsequently

The Mystery of the Broken Commandments

Standing in the library at Soddem Hall, I twirled my luxurious moustache and turned to my loyal, but slightly stupid friend Dimm. "Dimm, I have an unnacountable intuition that there is a murderer on the loose at Soddem Hall this weekend."

Dimm blinked his beady little eyes as he attempted to process this information. "Really Warmwater? What makes you say that old chap?"

I pointed with a flourish at the body lying on the library floor in front of us - a curious, south American dart protuding from its throat.

"This, Dimm. Lord Stiffy Stiffington, cut down in his prime by the hand of a madman."

Dimm started in horror. "Good Lord," he said "Stiffy Stiffington - a stiff? How did it happen?"

I puffed out my chest, "Well Dimm, as usual, I guess it will be down to me, Luke Warmwater, famous detective, to solve this ghastly and mysterious crime." I bent down and picked something off the floor. "A-ha. And here, if I'm not very much mistaken, is my first clue."

Dimm moved closer and peered at the object in my hand. "What is it Warmwater?"

"Nothing to trouble yourself with, my dear simple little friend. Now, if you could just pull the third candlestick from the left, you'll find yourself in the secret passage which is the short cut to Sir Hugh Geego's bedroom. Kindly go and tell his Lordship we have a situation."

Dimm opened the secret passageway but hesitated before he entered.

"Yes, what is it Dimm?" I said tersely.

"Oh....probably nothing old chap...a thought just passed through my mind but...well, it's of no importance." He shuffled off into the passage and his footsteps echoed along the stone floor. As the secret door closed behind him, I distinctly hear the rattle of ghostly chains and a shiver ran down my spine.

Before I had time to dwell on the fate of my old friend, the door opened and the beautiful but cold Aurora De Greasepaint entered the room. She was carrying a letter addressed to me.

"Butler gave me this Luke, he found it in the secret passageway between the pantry and the scullery."

I tore open the envelope and read the letter. It was very brief. 'It was me wot done it - signed, Mr Wright.'

Aurora laid her hand on my arm. "Oh Luke," she said. "You've solved the murder. My hero."

I narrowed my eyes. "Miss DeGreasepaint - how did you know there's been a murder?"

"Well, apart from the dead body at your feet, I was in the secret room next door and heard you talking."

"Secret room next door? What secret room next door?"

"You know - the one with all those white things. The cold white thing, the white thing that gets hot, and the white thing that fills with water."

"My dear woman - that's not a secret room - that's a kitchen. You young ladies of today have things far too easily."

She pouted. "Well, anyway, that's where I was, and I heard you talking. And now, if you don't mind, I'm going to browse around the attic, where I heard some mysterious noises earlier." And with that she pulled out a copy of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, causing the fireplace to spin round and reveal a secret passage leading up to the attic.

Alone at last, I inspected the body on the floor. His lips were parted in a grimace, and lilac froth gathered at the corners of his mouth. I sniffed cautiously. Just as I thought - Lord Stiffington had apparently been poisoned by an obscure south American poison known only to the 8 remaining members of a remote people who lived on the edge of Lake Titicaca. And, of course, to me. At that moment, a scream rent the air. I ran to the door and pulled it open. There, in the hallway lay the body of Aurora De Greasepaint who, only minutes before had left the library through the secret passageway. How could this be? Had the mysterious Mr Wright struck again?

The scream had brought the house's inhabitants running - Sir Hugh Geego, my friend Dimm, Lady Helena Handbasket could it be? Aurora de Greasepaint. I rubbed my eyes. Had I taken too much opium the night before? Aurora's eyes widened and she put her hand to her mouth and swooned, collapsing to the floor next to the first Aurora de Greasepaint.

"Sal Volatile!" I cried.

"Yes sir?" a timid maidservant curtseyed.

"What do you mean 'Yes sir?'? I want smelling salts - sal volatile."

"But I AM Sal Volatile sir. That's me name. Sally Volatile."

At that moment Aurora groaned (the second one - the swooned one not the dead one).

"Miss de Greasepaint," I said "You're dead...but you're can that be?"

"It's my twin sister," she whispered, "Smilla DeCrowd." And promptly fainted again.

I paced the floor. Butler handed me another note on a silver salver which I tore open (the note, not the salver - I'm an intelligent detective after all) 'It was me wot done that too - signed Mr Wright'.

Dimm frowned, "I say old chap..." he started. We all looked at him. "Oh...errrrr...nothing."

"I see how this happened," I said. "You see this thread I picked up earlier that I kept to myself as the most important clue to this whole business? Well, it was attached to a blow gun concealed in the bust of Ghengis Khan on the mantlepiece. A piece of cunning machinery inside using the coils of an alarm clock, a fish slice and a bicycle pump meant that a dart loaded with poison shot out and killed Lord Stiffington."

Everyone gasped in stunned amazement. "By jove Warmwater, I do believe you have it." Dimm beamed. Then the light in his eyes faded. "But that can't be right..."

"Whyever not Dimm?" I asked with some annoyance.

"Because Luke, I saw you stab Stiffy in the throat with that dart myself. I just never realised what I had seen until now."

Everyone gasped and took a step backwards. As I prepared to flee through the secret passageway concealed by the heavy velvet curtain in the corner, the front door opened.

"Aha" said Sir Hugh Geego, "the mysterious Mr Wright I presume?"

"No...Wong. Inspector Wong from Hong Kong. Arrest that man."


  1. Oh, you are spoiling us with lazy posts right now :D

  2. Don't know about your other fans, but I'm partial to nonsense.

  3. Fans??? Hahahahahahaha - very funny, lady :o)

    Thanks both - glad you enjoyed it.

  4. Well that was a very entertaining way to spend my coffee break, thank you! I think I will suggest this as an exercise for my writing group.

  5. I was so ready to write (triumphantly :) "You forgot the Chinaman!" And then...

  6. I remember reading those rules somewhere. Thanks for the refresh :)

  7. Helen - you're most welcome.

    Margit - LOL. I didn't forget - honest!

    M J - interesting how things change, isn't it?

  8. Ha Ha, cool stuff. By the way, you're responsible for this:

    which was inspired by this post.