The Detection Club Oath

“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 on them, and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo-Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence or Act of God ?”


The club was founded in 1928 by a group of crime writers with G.K. Chesterton as its first president. The oath was written (Wikileaks thinks) by Dorothy L. Sayers. Later Ronald Knox expanded on it with 10 Commandments for crime writers, which included a ban on unexpected twins, undiscovered poisons, secret rooms and all Chinamen. The latter looks like a racist exclusion but if anything it was the opposite - a reaction to the sort of pulp fiction in which Chinese criminal secret societies were an all-purpose and all-too-convenient solution to any devious criminal activity.


I don’t know if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a member of the Detection Club. He did not die until 1930 and you’d think they must have asked him. As a committed spiritualist he might have objected to the oath, though, as a matter of fact, there are no Sherlock Holmes stories in which the supernatural is the solution, though quite a few (such as The Hound of the Baskervilles) that raise the possibility. Holmes is a super-rationalist and an expert user of Occam’s Razor. He would have embraced the oath without reservation.


In fact, to believe in the afterlife and the possibility of supernatural events did not exclude one from membership of the Detection Club; if anything, it was the other way round. Many of the Detection Club founders were strong religious believers: Sayers was a committed Anglican and the author of Christian books and radio plays; Knox became a catholic priest; and Chesterton’s detective hero was one.

Posted on March 3rd, 2011


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