Detective Film and Fiction

Dr. Chidsey Dickson




This course offers students a chance to explore the many subgenre of Mystery film and fiction—the classical puzzle/locked room mystery, hardboiled detection, police procedural, crime novel, crime spree exploitation novel/film, and film noir—beginning with the excellent study of (the differences between) 18th and 19th century representations of murderers in Karen Halttunen’s Murder Most Foul: The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination. Drawing on studies of crime fiction and noir film, we’ll think critically about how representations of crime stage (and comment on) social relationships.


Course objectives.


  • Reflect on and articulate the differences between the various genre of detection, as well as the differences between the media of print and film


  • Analyze how writers from various periods (and differing genders, race and theoretical dispositions) have used a popular genre to pursue unique rhetorical goals


  • Develop and hone reading and writing abilities through the analysis of crime narratives and personae



How will these course objectives be measured?


  • Essays that describe each of the genre’s conventions
  • Essays that compare/contrast the rhetorical goals and genre modifications used by the various writers and filmmakers we survey
  • One major revision project




US Context


Hammet, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon

Chandler, Raymond. The Big Sleep

Goodis, David. Shoot the Piano Player

Thomson, Jim. Pop. 1280

Himes, Chester. Cotton Comes to Harlem.

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

Evanovich, Janet. One for the Money

Jones, Gayl. Eva’s Man


International Context:


Murakami, Haruki. The Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel (Japan)

Ibargüengoitia , Jorge. Two Crimes (Mexico)

Abe. Kobo. The Ruined Map (Japan)

Van der Wetering, Jan Willehm. Outsider in Amsterdam


Contextual Readings (excerpts):


The Origins of Crime Fiction:


Halttunen, Karen.  Murder Most Foul: The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination

Poe, Edgar. “Murders in the Rue Morgue”

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. “A Case of Identity” “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” & “A Scandal in Bohemia

Orczy, The Baroness.  “The Nine Score Mystery” & “The Woman with the Big Hat” in Lady Molly of Scotland Yard (1910, 1926 ed.)




McCann, Sean. Gumshoe America: Hard Boiled Crime Fiction and the Rise & Fall of New Deal Liberalism

Horsley, L. The Noir Thriller.

Hilfer, Tony. The Crime Novel

Clabough, Casey. “Speaking the Grotesque: The Short Fiction of Gayl Jones.” The Southern Literary Journal 38.2 (2006) 74-96.

O'Brien, Geoffrey Hardboiled America

Stewart, Garret. Styles of Dying in British Fiction

Miller, D A. The Novel and The Police


Films (I’ll choose several from this list)

Brick (Director: Rian Johnson)

Rear Window (Director: Alfred Hitchcock)

Detour (Director: Edgar Ulmer)

Shaft (Director: Gordon Parks)

The Element of a Crime (Director: Lars von Trier)

The Usual Suspects (Director: Bryan Singer)

Momento (Director: Christopher Nolan)

Insomnia (Director: Erik Skjoldbjaerg)

Blue Noon (Director: Rene Clement)