Friday, October 18, 2019

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza: Reading Challenge 2020



Having discovered the delights (and temptations) of reading challenges during my first year of blogging (2010), I decided try my hand at hosting a challenge for the next year. My abiding love of classic mysteries suggested the theme of Vintage Mysteries and so an almost 10-year journey was begun. Since I am celebrating 10 years of blogging in 2020 and the 10th Anniversary of the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge in 2021, I have put together a Vintage Mystery Extravaganza version of the challenge to run in both years. As has been the case since 2014, readers may choose either Golden or Silver eras (or, for the more adventurous, both) to claim completion of any level.

General Rules
*Challenge runs January 1, 2020 through December 31st 2020. Any books read January 1 or later may count regardless of sign-up date.

*All books must be from the mystery category (crime fiction, detective fiction, espionage, etc.). The mystery/crime must be the primary feature of the book--ghost stories, romance, humor, etc. are all welcome as ingredients, but must not be the primary category under which these books would be shelved at the library or bookstore.

For the purposes of my challenge, Golden Age mysteries must have been first published before 1960. Golden Age short story collections (whether published pre-1960 or not) are permissible provided all of the stories included in the collection were originally written pre-1960. Please remember that some of our Golden Age authors wrote well after 1959--so keep an eye on the original publication date and count them appropriately. Silver Age mysteries may be first published from 1960 to 1989 (inclusive). Again, Silver Age short story collections published later than 1989 are permissible provided none of the stories are first published later than 1989. Yes, I admit my dates are arbitrary (and personal to me) and may not exactly meet standard definitions of Golden or Silver Age.

*If you have a blog please post about the challenge and a little about your commitment--if you're going Silver or Gold...or maybe both in some of the levels. Then sign-up via the form below. Please use the url link for your Challenge post and not your home page. Those without blogs may leave that blank or enter the url for a Goodreads or Library Thing list, ect.


The Basic Level for the Vintage Mystery Extravaganza: 
Commandments/Rules/Common Devices
Ronald Knox (1888-1957) was a member of the Detective Club who penned the original commandments for detective fiction writers. S.S. Van Dine (Willard Huntington Wright; 1888-1939) was a detective novelist from the early years who compiled his own list of rules for detective fiction writers. To complete the most basic level of this year's challenge and to be eligible for the prize drawing at the end of the year, challengers must read five books in a chosen era (Golden or Silver) related in some way to five different categories from the combined lists. Bonus points for completing more categories and more than one book per category as well as completing the challenge for both eras. You are welcome to interpret these creatively:

1. The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know. (Knox/Van Dine #10) Now--I don't want to encourage spoilers, so elements for eligible books may include any of the following: unreliable narrator/source of any sort (does not have to be the villain--may just be telling us fibs for their own purposes); criminal winds up being some random, marginal character or someone thrust upon the reader in the last half of the book; etc.

2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course. (Knox) The problem of the crime must be solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic seances (especially to frighten the culprit into giving himself away--see Van Dine #20), crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. (Van Dine #8) and The method of murder, and the means of detecting it must be rational and scientific. (Van Dine #14) Any book that includes a supernatural aspect (real or imagined) is fair game. 

3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable (Knox). A book with any amount of secret rooms/passages will qualify.


4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end. (Knox). No use of the hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops. (Van Dine #20) Any book that uses poisons, ingenious devices, hypodermics, etc. may count here.


5. No Chinaman must figure in the story. (Knox) Any book that features someone of Asian heritage in a prominent way--culprit, suspect, victim, witness, detective.


6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right. (Knox) The culprit must be determined by logical deductions--not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. (Van Dine #5) Any book where it seems that the detective has pulled his/her solution out of the air or where you are completely unsatisfied with the explanation may count. 


7. The detective himself must not commit the crime. (Knox) The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. (Van Dine #4). Again, to avoid spoilers, any book where the detective, a police officer, other law/justice-related person, or the narrator is suspected of the crime (not necessarily ultimately guilty).


8. The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover. (Knox) The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described. (Van Dine #1) No wilful tricks or deceptions may be played on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself. (Van Dine #2) The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent--provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. (Van Dine #15) Any book where you feel the detective is holding clues/knowledge back or you just feel like you were unfairly bamboozled by the author.


9. The "sidekick" of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly below that of the average reader. (Knox). Again--any book where you feel the narrator is not playing fair with the information given. 


10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them. (Knox) There shall be no final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent person. (Van Dine #20) Any book where twins or doubles figure. Impersonation of any sort. Mistaken identity.


11. There must be no love interest. (Van Dine #3) Any book with love/romance as a prominent feature. [Just about any Patricia Wentworth, for instance)


12. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. (Van Dine #6) This is pretty much a free space--any mystery with a real detective in it (professional or amateur).


13. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. (Van Dine #7) Any mystery that does NOT have a murder in it--think burglary, kidnapping, forgery, spying (with no dead bodies mentioned), etc.


14. There must be but one detective--that is, but one protagonist of deduction--one deus ex machina. (Van Dine #9) Any book where you have more than one detective (loosely interpreted). For instance, books with an amateur detective working in concert with or separately from the official force. (Holmes & Lestrade; Lord Peter Wimsey and Charles Parker; etc.)


15. A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. (Van Dine #11) To avoid spoilers--any book where a servant is important in any way--culprit, suspect, victim, vital witness, detective.


16. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders. (Van Dine #12) Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. (Van Dine #13) A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. (Van Dine #17) Any book with more than one culprit, a professional criminal, OR with a reference to any secret society. The secret society does not have to be responsible for any murders done--just play a role in the narrative.

17. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no "atmospheric" preoccupations. (Van Dine #16) Any book you think goes on a bit much about the countryside, delves too deeply into psychology, or breaks Van Dine's rule in any way.


18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. (Van Dine #17) Any book that features a death looks like accident or suicide--whether it winds up really being murder or not.

19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction--in secret-service tales, for instance. (Van Dine #19) Read a spy/espionage novel; military intrigue; international super-villains; etc.


20. The remaining over-used devices listed under Van Dine's #20: Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect. Forged fingerprints. The dummy-figure alibi. The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar. The commission of the murder in a locked room after the poilice have actually broken in. The word association test for guilt. The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth. One book that employs any of these devices OR any device that you would argue has been over-used to the point of cliche.



Bonus Levels: Vintage Mystery Challenge over the years

Once a challenger has read the five books for the basic-level challenge, they are welcome to complete any of the bonus levels focused on each variation of the Vintage Mystery Challenge since it began. Each level requires new books in addition to those already read and when completed will add extra entries for the prize drawing at the end of the year. Even though the original version may have called for Golden Age books only, five or six books in Silver are also acceptable. Please click on the links for the individualized rules for each version.

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2011  
To complete this level, challengers must complete the Murderous Mood level of the original challenge with five books.

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2012: Vintage Themes

To complete this level, challengers must complete at least five books in a chosen theme. .

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2013: Scattergories

To complete this level, challengers must complete at least five books in five of the categories listed.

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2014: Bingo

To complete this level, challengers must complete one valid Bingo on either Golden or Silver card.

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2015: Bingo
To complete this level, challengers must complete one valid Bingo on either Golden or Silver card.

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2016: Scavenger Hunt 
To complete this level, challengers must find five of the required items on book covers. [None from books read previously]

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2017: Scavenger Hunt

To complete this level, challengers must find five of the required items on book covers. [None from books read previously]

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2018: Just the Facts, Ma'am
 To complete this level, challengers must complete one book for each notebook item (6 total).

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2019: Just the Facts, Ma'am 
To complete this level, challengers must complete one book for each notebook item (6 total)





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