There is the thinnest of autobiographical links here and I won’t labour it. (Who knew R would turn out to be the second hardest to do?) I have started writing whodunits and it seems there is some modern confusion as to what, exactly, constitutes a traditional whodunit. Or even whodunnit. What are the rules? Yes, it has to be true to the era in which it is written, and the reader has to have a sporting chance of solving the mystery, but is there a set standard?
Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, and more than a dozen of the crème de la crème detective story writers who were active in 1929, created a Detection Club which still meets annually for a dinner : membership, although now extended to a few more related fields, is still by invitation only : and to the best of my knowledge the initiation ceremony still includes this wonderful oath, circa 1930.
The Ruler shall say to the Candidate: Is it your firm desire to become a Member of the Detection Club?
The Candidate shall answer in a loud voice: That is my desire.
Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them, using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on, nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo-Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence or the Act of God?
Do you solemnly swear never to conceal a vital clue from the reader?
Do you promise to observe a seemly moderation in the use of Gangs, Conspiracies, Death-Rays, Ghosts, Hypnotism, Trap-Doors, Chinamen, Super-Criminals and Lunatics; and utterly and forever to forswear Mysterious Poisons unknown to Science?
Will you honour the King’s English?
Is there anything you hold sacred?
Then the Candidate, having named a Thing which he holds of peculiar sanctity, the Ruler shall ask: Do you swear by (Here the Ruler shall name the Thing)
to observe faithfully all these promises which you have made so long as you are a Member of the Club?
(But if the Candidate is not able to name a Thing which he holds sacred, then the Ruler shall propose the Oath in this manner following: Do you as you hope to increase your Sales, swear to observe faithfully all these promises which you have made, so long as you are a Member of the Club?)
Then the Candidate shall solemnly swear: All this I solemnly do swear. And I do furthermore promise and undertake to be loyal to the Club, neither purloining nor disclosing any plot or secret communicated to me before publication by any Member, whether under the influence of drink or otherwise.
If there is any Member present who objects to the Proposal let him or her so declare. If there be no objector, then shall the Ruler say to the Members: Do you then acclaim A N Other as a Member of our Club?
Then the Company’s Crier, or the Member appointed thereto by the Secretary, shall lead the Company in such cries of approval as are within his compass or capacity. When the cries cease, whether from lack of breath or any other cause, the Ruler shall make this declaration:
A N Other, you are duly elected a Member of the Detection Club, and if you fail to keep your promises may other writers anticipate your plots, may your publishers do you down in your contracts, may total strangers sue you for libel, may your pages swarm with misprints and may your sales continually diminish. Amen.”
My source for this was Peter Lovesey’s website (he is a member) and should I ever be invited, which is writ large near the top of the list of the things I still want from life, I promise I will let you know if the ceremony has changed any. And whether Eric The Skull is still part of the oath. And if anyone reading this is a member (ha!) please may I have your autograph?