Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Story and The Hound of the Baskervilles


This paper will explore Van Dine’s; Twenty rules for writing detective story as they relate to Doyle, Arthur Conan’s; The Hound of the Baskervilles. This paper will focus on four rules specific rules to demonstrate that while following a pre-ascribed set of rules may be useful, such adherence should not preclude involving the reader in solving the mystery.


According to Van Dine, it is vital to grant the reader equal opportunity to solve the mystery. However, unbeknownst to the reader, Holmes travels to the moors of Devon, solves the crime, and only re-emerges to explain to everyone how he gathered his clues and what he has concluded (Doyle, 2001). These actions contravene Van Dine’s assertion that it is unacceptable to play tricks on, or deceive the reader in any way apart from through legitimate tricks played on the detective by the perpetrator himself (Van Dine, 1997). Doyle goes to elaborate lengths to ensure that Holmes’ presence at the moors remains undiscovered. He manages to convince the reader that Watson had been deployed on a solo detective mission to the moors.  He later disguises Holmes as a lonely figure surveying the moors for inexplicable reasons (Doyle, 2001). Although I found the idea of the solitary figure intriguing at first, it was disconcerting to discover that it was Holmes in disguise.

Despite these inconsistencies, Van Dine’s rules apply in some aspects of the Novel. For instance, the mystery involves the murder of Sir Charles, which is consistent with Van Dine’s assumption that no other crime is appropriate for a detective story (Van Dine, 1997).  Furthermore, at any time in the story, the reader is only exposed to the deductions of a single detective. However, despite Van Dine’s argument that it is unfair to bombard the reader with the opinion of multiple detectives (Van Dine, 1997), I find that excluding Holmes from significant parts of the novel robbed the reader the chance to participate in solving the mystery. When Holmes re-emerges later in the story, Watson is nowhere near solving the mystery and, as similarly, neither is the reader. The hurried chronology of events that follows his arrival may have created an anticlimactic ending to the novel.


Applying some of Van Dine’s rules does add to the novel’s ability to sustain the interest of the reader, while failing to do so may have excluded the reader from solving the mystery.  However, it may also have contributed to a disconcerting ending in the novel. As such, it may be useful to exercise discretion in applying these rules and give primal consideration to the interests of the reader.

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