As you know, I’ve been tinkering for some time with the book list for this fall’s version of ‘Mystery and Detective Fiction.’ This course presents a special set of challenges for me because the range of options is so wide and because my patience for exploring the options runs out pretty fast. I’ve also been asked to teach it so often since I first introduced it in 2003, and I’m always torn between the simplicity and efficiency of just using the same books as before and the desire for some change, not to mention the pricking of my conscience about trying to represent as many voices and styles in the genre as I can. After another round of suggestions, explorations, and cogitations, not to mention a very tedious search for a reader that included all of my ‘must have’ short fiction, here’s what I’ve settled on for Fall 2011. The order is in, so don’t you dare tell me what books would work better or what important writer I’m obviously missing. Actually, feel free to tell me. I’m sure I’ll be teaching the course again, probably as soon as 2012-13, and I might as well get the list started for the next round of ideas. Also, I emphasize in class that our list can’t even hope to be comprehensive even as a sampler: the stated goal of the course is to equip them with contexts, critical ideas, and reading strategies that will enhance their reading of any mysteries, so it doesn’t hurt to be able to mention other titles they should look at.
Classic Crime Stories: 13 Tales from Edgar Allan Poe to Lawrence Block, ed. James Daley
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868)
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901-2)
Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon (1930)
Ed McBain, Cop Hater (1956)
P. D. James, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (1972)
Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, The Terrorists (1975)
Sara Paretsky, Indemnity Only (1982)
Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress (1990)
McBain, Sjowall and Wahloo and Mosley will be brand new “preps” for me. I left An Unsuitable Job for a Woman off the list for this survey class last time, but it’s one of my own favorites and when I saw I could work the schedule to allow time for one more book, I decided to give it to myself as a treat as well as to the students as a striking contrast in theme and style to the greater minimalism (and testosterone) of McBain and the increase in hard-boiled tough stuff that comes with adding Mosley. This will be the first time I’ve offered the course without Ian Rankin’s Knots and Crosses, and I’ll miss that one for its blend of procedural conventions and literary material (it’s usually a student favorite, for the creepiness, too). And I’ve dropped Paul Auster’s City of Glass for now, with some regrets because it’s so darned clever–but that’s also the reason I won’t miss it. Looking at this list in chronological order I realize I’m not doing well at bringing it right up to date (1990 seems a lot more recent to me than it will to my students!). Oh well.