The Detection Club’s Fair Play Rules

I’m running a writing workshop all about detectives later this month, so in honor of that I thought I’d re-post my blog all about playing fair with your reader.  Originally posted on GirlsHeartBooks.

Time Traveling to the Detection Club dinner, 1932

When Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue first came out, I wrote a short post on my top tips for writing a mystery for the Chicken House Blog (you can find it here). My last and final rule was to ‘play fair’ with your reader. It’s no fun reading a mystery when the author keeps a big clue up their sleeve the whole time!

‘Play fair’ is also the motto of The Detection Club: a (sort of) Secret Society of Mystery Writers that was founded by the greats in the Golden Age of Mysteries; Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L Sayers and John Rhode to name a few (A.A. Milne was also a member, though today he’s better remembered for his Winnie the Pooh books than his mysteries).

Members of The Detection Club swore an oath to play fair with the reader, had diners and costume parties, helped each other with tricky plots and even wrote books together. If I could time travel, I would love to go to one of their meetings, and maybe even join.

So, just in case I ever find a time machine, I’ve been studying up. I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself.


I. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

II. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course. To solve a detective problem by such means would be like winning a race on the river by the use of a concealed motor-engine.

III. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

IV. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

V. No Chinaman must figure in the story. [Eeep. The Fair Play Rules were written in 30’s when casual racism was the norm. As a modern writer, I chose to read this rule as follows: No ‘suspicious foreigner’ will will be used as an easy scapegoat, obvious villain or convenient plot device. 3-dimensional POC characters are welcome and encouraged.]

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

VII. The detective must not himself commit the crime.

VIII. The detective must not light on any clues are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader

IX. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

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

Of course, all rules are made to be broken (Agatha Christie herself wrote at least one book where the narrator is the culprit–I won’t give it away by telling you which one), but I think for the most part playing by the rules makes reading (and writing) mysteries much more fun.

So there you have them, the ten rules all members of The Detection Club swore an oath to follow! The next time you’re reading a mystery, here’s a second case to solve. Check and see how closely the author stuck to the rules. Did they play fair?

And now that I’ve brushed up on the rules, and found a 1930’s disguise, I’m off to find that time machine. Wish me luck!

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The Impossible Clue

The first Alice Jones Mystery is (finally?) out in America.  So if you’ve been waiting for the US edition (with all those pesky extra U’s removed, or if you just want a copy with the awesome Melissa Manwill cover, now is your chance!

TheImpossibleClueHCMath whiz Alice Jones has already cracked a mystery or two. She’s smart and she’s fearless, so who else would her classmates turn to? But when a famous local scientist vanishes from a locked room, Alice and her detective skills graduate to the big leagues.

Dr. Learner had been working on a top-secret invisibility suit that everyone wants. Rumor has it he’s disappeared under suspicious circumstances . . . literally. But is wacky science really behind his vanishing? Or is it something more sinister? Alice won’t stop until she knows the truth . . .

The Impossible Clue is a middle-grade story whose appeal is no mystery, with a protagonist whose charm needs no magnifying glass to detect.

You can order your copy here.

Happy Valentine’s Day

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, too much romance makes me squeamish BUT in honor of St Valentine I offer a review of my favorite, most reread, I’m-actually-in-love-with-this-book book of all time: Diana Wynne Jones’ Deep Secret.



The cover of my copy

Rupert Venables is a Magid.

It’s a Magid’s job to oversee what goes on in the vast Multiverse. Actually, Rupert is really only a junior Magid. But he’s got a king-sized problem. Rupert’s territory includes Earth and the Empire of Korfyros. When his mentor dies Rupert must find a replacement. But there are hundreds of candidates. How is he supposed to choose? And interviewing each one could take forever.


What if he could round them all up in one place?


Where do I start? I first got my hands on this book in 2004 and have re-read it at least once a year since then. It is my go-to comfort book when I’m feeling unwell or need a pick-me-up after reading something sad.

Deep Secret isn’t a sweeping fantasy epic, but a book about every day, even bureaucratic magic. I love poor Rupert Venables, the multiverse’s youngest magid. It’s so funny to read about the hum drum annoyances he faces trying to go about his magical tasks and keep the many worlds from spinning out of control.

I also love Maree Mallory, the second narrator. A dour pessimistic soul, Maree’s voice is everything I strive for in my own writing. She is as real to me as a best friend and I often wish I could invite her over for a cup of tea and cake. Her triumph against a truly wicked step-aunt makes me cheer (sometimes aloud) every single time.

Deep Secret is funny and fantastic and utterly charming. If you haven’t read it, do so now. If you have read it, do so again!

Happy Valentine’s day, book-baby!


Exciting News!

I’ve always loved mysteries, and now I’ve written one!

Mystery and math are a perfect fit for gifted schoolgirl detective Alice Jones. But when Alice gets caught up in the case of a missing inventor, things get a lot more complicated than just solving her classmates’ mini-mysteries for a mars bar. And when it turns out the scientist was building an invisibility suit, Alice learns she isn’t the only one on the case.

With a mysterious silver Mercedes on her tail, Alice follows the clues, from state-of-the-art labs to dingy apartments, searching for the answer to one very important question: How do you find someone who can turn invisible?

I’ve signed a two book deal (2!) with Chicken House for Alice Jones and the Invisible Scientist and the next Alice Jones adventure. I’ll be posting here about the editing process as we get the first manuscript ready for publication AND about the writing process as I work on the sequel. There may even be some sneak peaks.