SOME RULES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN. Others are broken at our peril. And still others are made to create peril, delicious, lovely peril for the victim in a good old fashioned murder mystery. With that goal in mind, for your consideration I hereby present my Top Ten Murder Mystery Rules. Mystery authors should feel free to stretch them to the breaking point, but do bear in mind that most of the great murder mystery novels abide by them all, and for good reason. They work.

1. There must be at least one murder, or else good reason to believe a murder has been, or will be, committed.

2. The murderer’s identity must be unknown to the reader. If the murderer’s identity is unknown to the protagonist but known to the reader, the book is a suspense or thriller novel, not a murder mystery.

3. The murderer may not be identified through a character’s psychic powers, or through magic, or through time travel, or a futuristic machine. In such cases, the book is some form of speculative fiction, not a murder mystery.

4. The murderer and the motive for the murder must be clearly identified in the novel, preferably at the end.

5. While the murderer may be insane, the reason for the murder must be understandable.

6. The protagonist may have companions who assist with the investigation, however the ultimate solution must be discovered or deduced by the protagonist.

7. The protagonist must be in immediate danger as a result of the investigation, or else responsible for saving or defending another character who is in immediate danger.

8. The act of murder must be consistent with the murderer’s personality and abilities.

9. The murderer must be a human being. If the murderer is an alien, a ghost, or a monster, it is science fiction or a horror novel, not a murder mystery.

10. All clues used by the protagonist to solve the murder must be revealed to the reader and the protagonist simultaneously.

Do you know another murder mystery rule?

Can you think of a classic murder mystery novel that breaks these rules?

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