Part dinner club, part semi-guild for detective fiction writers, the Detection Club was formed in 1930 Britain by a distinguished group of authors including such Cozy luminaries as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, E.C. Bentley, and G.K. Chesterton, all of whom eventually served a tenure as president. The Detection Club was originally mostly English and Irish authors, though this was more due to the limitations of geography at the time than an inclination toward British born authors – Hungarian born immigrant to Britain Emma Orczy was among the founding members. Still, the Detection Club has always been a largely British group – John Dickson Carr was the first and only American added to the club in 1936, and he resided in the UK at the time. Always an invitation-only club, the Detection Club today includes some of the modern leaders of mystery fiction, including Colin Dexter and current president, Simon Brett.
Most sources indicate that the main reason the club originally formed was to provide a group of friends in the field; individuals who enjoyed spending time with one another with an excuse to meet regularly for dinner parties in London. However, they also took their careers very seriously, and in an attempt to avoid what they saw as a cheapening of the detective fiction field of literature, all members pledged an oath to uphold certain “fair play” rules. Of course, most of the Detection Club members rarely upheld these “rules” all the time – Agatha Christie in particular was famous for either bending the rules so far they were unrecognizable, or even occasionally breaking them outright.
In modern times many of these initial rules have been relaxed or discarded as sentiment toward them changed among detective fiction authors. (As a side note, I’ll be reviewing these rules and some of their modern applicability in two other upcoming articles.)
Most potential applicants were only considered if they had written at least two successfully published pieces of detective fiction, though a few rare exceptions were made for those who had written significantly in other fields – for example, A. A. Milne, author of the widely popular Winnie the Pooh series of children’s novels, was accepted into the club despite only writing one mystery book, The Red House Mystery. (The Kindle copy is FREE so if you want it, be sure to click on the link!) Likewise, as different styles of novels have risen and fallen over the decades, working in the field that would have been considered “detective fiction” has also fallen by the wayside, with many members having a much stronger background in thriller or supernatural mysteries than strictly detective works.
Overall, the Detection Club has been a mainstay of the for many years, and is still occasionally active, with an anthology of modern short works including pieces by P. D. James, Colin Dexter, and Reginald Hill published for the 75th anniversary of the Detection Club in 2005. The club also periodically re-releases out of print publications of their older anthologies, so if you happen to see a novel with something like “By Members of the Detection Club” on the cover, don’t hesitate to pick it up – it’s sure to include some great reads!