The Ten Deadly Sins

This book, originally published in Czech in 1973, is based on an amusing literary conceit. Ronald Arbuthnott Knox, an English Catholic priest and important early 20th-century theologian, was also a distinctive figure in the development of the genre of detective fiction. A pretty fair writer of detective stories himself, he also (for instance) wrote a humorous essay in which he portrayed Sherlock Holmes as an actual historical figure—thereby setting off an entire movement of hilarious pseudoscience that continues to this very day. Further, in 1929 Father Knox issued his "Ten Commandments" for what is and is not permissible in a detective story. It is these commandments that form the core of Josef Skvorecký's book.

The commandments include such rules as: "No more than one secret room or passage is allowable in any one story" (III); "Nothing is allowable that requires a long scientific explanation at the end" (IV); "No Chinaman must figure in the story" (V: this was Knox's annoyed reaction to one of the most hackneyed ploys in cheap detective stories of the 20's); "The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the reader" (VIII); "Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them" (X). Knox's intent was to improve the writing of detective fiction. Skvorecký's...

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