Sins for Father Knox by Josef Skvorecky (Shane's book 8, 2009)

In 1929, Father Ronald Knox published his Detective Story Decalogue, a list of ten rules for writing detective stories. The list was an attempt to ensure 'fair play' on the part of writers and to give readers a reasonable chance to solve the mystery before the detective. Knox's rules include such imperatives as "the criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story" and proposed a limit on the use of secret passages, twin brothers and Chinamen.

[amtap book:isbn=0886191955]

More than 40 years later, in 1973, Josef Skvorecky wrote this book of short stories, each of which breaks one of Father Knox's rules. It's a testament to the Czech author's abilities that the stories work not only as satire but also as mysteries in their own right.

The first story stars Lieutenant Boruvka, the Prague-based detective who had already appeared in one of Skvorecky's novels and would go on to appear in two more. Boruvka is interviewing a woman, Eve Adam, whom he believes has been wrongly imprisoned for murder. He manages to find the real killer and Adam goes free. The subsequent stories follow her to Sweden, Italy and America as she is embroiled in one crime mystery after another.

Though the tone of the writing pays homage to the hardboiled fiction of the 30s and 40s, the plotting has more in common with the puzzle-form stories of the Golden Age of detective fiction. Having set up each mystery, Skvorecky stops and challenges the reader to identify the criminal and which of Father Knox's rules has been broken in the story. It's surprisingly difficult. I spotted five of the ten broken rules but even towards the end of the book, with fewer rules remaining to be broken, Skvorecky sews red herrings that make guessing tricky.

It's a very enjoyable book. Anyone who enjoys detective fiction should try to get hold of a copy.