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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Discussing the Rules of Murder with Julianna Deering

An Interview with Julianna Deering by Barbara Early

I have to admit, when I heard Julianna Deering’s first Drew Farthering mystery was based in part on Father Knox’s Decalogue for mystery writers, I was intrigued. I had a lot of fun looking to see how she would try to break or bend each of these rules. So I’m really excited to be able to talk with DeAnna…um, Julianna…about the rules today, and how she--and others--might have broken them.

Father Ronald Knox
1. 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.

Barb: I can see the logic behind the first part. Many readers try to solve the crime along with the detective, and I can imagine it might be a bit frustrating to some readers to have their theories all in place, and then a new character comes in and dashes it to pieces.

Julianna:  Yes.  It would be totally unfair to have a point of view character grieving about the dear departed and then the reader later finds that that same character was the one who engineered the departure.  It can be done (and was done beautifully by Mrs. Christie), but it must be done fairly or the reader will definitely feel cheated.

Barb: Well, since Rules of Murder is told in two points of view--Drew and Madeline, I surely hoped one of them wasn’t the killer.

Julianna:  I can confirm or deny nothing.

2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

Barb: Here’s something you can “get away with” in an Inspirational. Am I right to assume the supernatural agency is God?

Julianna:  God is definitely present in the novel, but I didn’t want to use the deus ex machina method, where a supernatural power sweeps in and solves the problem.  God is present in this book more as a fix for what the characters need personally.  But one of the maids is certain she has been menaced by the ghost of the first victim.

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

Barb: When I hear secret passages, I think of Scooby Doo. I think there was one or two in every episode. But I can see where this could be used as a lazy shortcut to a locked room murder, not that you use it like that. I’m trying to recall if I’ve read or seen other examples. I remember them from Nancy Drew, and I know there was at least one in Murder, She Wrote. A vagrant actually living in a secret passage--and thus a witness to a murder.

Julianna:  The secret passage bit was fun.  Father Knox says that if one must have a secret passage, it should be in a place likely to have one, an old mansion or castle, that sort of thing.  Mine, of course, was in a modern office building.

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

Barb: Well, I think you avoided a long, tedious scientific explanation. Personally, I think an undiscovered poison might be a good idea--not to give any homicidally minded people out there any ideas…

Julianna:  Ah, the mysterious cause of death.  Those are always fun.  And I think I managed a rather simple “undiscovered poison” for the book.  Of course, the victim didn’t appreciate it at all.

5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.

Barb: Do you know what the motivation behind this rule was? Was it an overused stereotype or prejudice at the time?

Julianna:  I think people often assume this is prejudice on the part of Father Knox, but I think he had merely had enough of the stereotypical exotic foreigner always being the killer.  It was quite a popular scenario in the 1920s and ‘30s, and he wanted writers to be more creative.  Of course, being as contrary as I am, I had to include someone from China in the cast of characters.

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

Barb: Aren’t all amateur detectives a bit intuitive? How did you handle this one?

Julianna:  This rule I broke by breaking Rule #2 in a roundabout way.   Drew does have a hunch about one particular place he goes to get some information and later on he realizes that something was a happy coincidence.  Then he remembers that he asked God to guide him, to show him what to do.  He hadn’t realized it before, but then he says that, since he had prayed, why should he be surprised at an answer.  Why indeed?

7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.

Barb: Now, I have seen some interesting examples that played with this rule. Anne Perry’s Face of a Stranger comes to mind, where an amnesiac detective begins to suspect himself in a homicide he’s investigating. And I think one of the draws of Gone Girl is that they play with this same idea of an unreliable narrator. I wasn’t quite sure how you toyed with this.

Julianna:  Well, since Drew is in fact the series hero, this is one rule I could only bend.  He is a suspect for a time, especially since he was on very bad terms with the first victim, but dear Drew really hasn’t a murderous bone in his whole body.

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

Barb: I have to admit, I feel this is a wise rule. I remember getting irritated reading a mystery novel where the detective--a first person narrator--asked to use the bathroom and didn’t return until a scene break. And yes, she found a clue in the bathroom. But did you actually hide information from the reader?

Julianna:  No, not really.  Drew has some suspicions he keeps from Nick and Madeline, and Nick chides him for that, citing this particular rule.  But my actual readers get to see what Drew sees.  It wouldn’t really be playing fair if they didn’t.

9. 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.

Barb: Now, in some cases, the sidekick, or Watson, serves as narrator for the story, allowing a little distance from the brilliant detective, to give the reader a little more time to solve the puzzle. But Nick isn’t a POV character for the story. Is he a stupid friend?

Julianna:  No, actually Nick is about Drew’s equal in intelligence.  Even though he’s the butler’s son, he went to Oxford along with Drew and is now in training to manage Farthering Place.  Drew does tease Nick with this rule, trying to get him to admit his suspicions of one of the characters they both are very fond of, and Nick’s reaction isn’t quite what Drew expects.  Nick isn’t stupid, but he doesn’t always think through some of the things he does.

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

Barb: I think every mystery television show out there has played with doubles--some more than once. What do you think is the key to breaking this rule effectively?

Julianna:  Again, you have to play fair with readers.  Yes, you want to surprise them and puzzle them, but you have to have the clues laid out for them to see . . . if they’re clever enough to find them in the middle of all the red herrings.  I think mystery writing is just sleight of hand.  Get your readers focused on something that isn’t important so they won’t see you fiddling with what is.

If you'd like to enter for a chance to win a copy of Rules of Murder, leave a comment with your email address below. So you don't get spammed for the rest of your life, you might want to leave it in a format not instantly recognized, such as Dorothy (at) WizardofOz (dot) com.



Drew Farthering loves a good mystery, although he generally expects to find it in the pages of a novel, not on the grounds of his country estate. When a weekend party at Farthering Place is ruined by murder and the police seem flummoxed, Drew decides to look into the crime himself. With the help of his best friend, Nick Dennison, an avid mystery reader, and Madeline Parker, a beautiful and whip-smart American debutante staying as a guest, the three try to solve the mystery as a lark, using the methods from their favorite novels.

Soon, financial irregularities at Drew's stepfather's company come to light and it's clear that all who remain at Farthering Place could be in danger. Trying hard to remain one step ahead of the killer--and trying harder to impress Madeline--Drew must decide how far to take this game.

18 comments:

  1. This was fun to read. Thanks, ladies, for the deeper explanation of the rules from both of your viewpoints.

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  2. Thanks, Suzie. Fun material to work with. And DeAnna (Julianna) did a wonderful job breaking these rules. But who knew she was such a little rebel?

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  3. It is interesting to learn more about these rules. I've heard Barb refer to them before but I had never seen the list. I am fascinated by the prospect of breaking the rules deliberately. This sounds like a great read. I hope I win the book.

    Khurst5476 at yahoo dot com

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  4. awesome!
    love the explanation of the rules and the hints/non hints of how they were broken/bent in the book. very tantilizing and making me really want to read the book.

    please put me in the drawing...
    nm8r67 at hotmail dot com

    i love it when the inkys are promoting a book. it's always so interesting.
    as i said before, this is already on my wish list, so i don't forget to buy it should i not be so fortunate to win it.

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  5. Good morning, Kathy! You're entered. And I think you would enjoy this book.:)

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  6. Hi, DebH! Yes, DeAnna was a bit of a tease, wasn't she? You're entered, as well.

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  7. What a clever idea to take on Monsignor Knox. I think he would be delighted!

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  8. I love the cover, it is so 1940's. I'm a big fan of the older style of mystery writing and own a nice sized collection of them.

    I'd love to add this to my library.

    NoraAdrienne(at)gmail(dot)c0m

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  9. You know, Doctor Dan, I think he would be!

    Welcome to Inkwell, and if you'd like to be included in the drawing for Rules of Murder this week, remember to leave an email address so we can contact you!

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  10. Welcome Nora A!

    And with a name like Nora--I think you'd love the wonderful repartee in this book. So Thin Man. You are entered! Thanks for stopping by!

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  11. Rebel? Tease? Moi?

    Say it isn't so! ;)


    Thanks to all of you for dropping by. Thanks, Barb, for chatting with me about the Rules. It was fun!

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  12. Ahh! nice to have our two mystery authors collaborating. In fact, I might have to devise a mystery where two mystery authors, out for a brainstorming lunch, happen upon a murder. Should they use their blog to elicit more information? At which point, they also risk becoming victims?

    Actually, I may not be able to think of Knox's Decalogue without thinking of Richard Armitage with a cat on his lap.
    simple minds, you know...

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  13. Yes, I think DeAnna and I were having fun, but I think she had more writing this one--which is probably why I found it so much fun to read.

    And Deb, I was told that mysteries about mystery writers were overdone and passe. Of course that was right before Castle came out and was so popular. LOL. Maybe there's something to that.

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  14. This was a blast to read! I am so glad we could get Julianna's take on the Rules of Murder.

    Secret passages make me think of Nancy Drew and Clue. They're fabulous. De rigeur for the haunted house. Oh, and Indiana Jones in that castle in Nazi Germany, with the rotating fireplace!

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  15. There's something tongue-in-cheek--or maybe just cheeky about a secret passage. I think there was one in Private Eyes, an old movie with Don Knotts and Tim Conway. Funny stuff, that.

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  16. Barb and DeAnna, great interview. I think you broke the rules very cleverly! I am so excited about this story!

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  17. Thanks, Lisa. She did a fantastic job at it.

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  18. Thank you, Lisa. And thanks again, Barb. This was fun. :)

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