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3 cr. Provides an overview of the origins and changing conventions of the mystery/detective/ crime fiction genre, from the Golden Age British classics to modern feminist works, with stops along the way for hardboiled, regional, and international works.


Dr. RACHEL SCHAFFER Montana State Univ Billings

Email: rschaffer [at]

We'll read 6 novels and parts of an anthology this semester, all available in the campus bookstore. In order, they are

Deane Mansfield-Kelley & Lois A. Marchino, eds., The Longman Anthology of Detective Fiction (LA for short) (selected short stories and critical essays)

Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest

Sara Paretsky, Bitter Medicine

Tony Hillerman, A Thief of Time

Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Craig Johnson, The Cold Dish
Also on reserve in the library: an extra copy of the Longman Anthology and A Thief of Time, plus a folder of Supplementary Readings available for photocopying or downloading from the library e-reserves (type Schaffer in the reserves box, then click on Schaffer in the faculty list, click on History of Mystery, Readings, and Details; open each pdf file in turn, and find the download button in the upper lefthand corner of the toolbar). One reading explains the lit paper in more detail, and others provide useful tips and library resources.

You'll also need to choose one additional mystery/detective/crime novel to write your paper about (see the paper instructions in the Readings).


This course will provide background in and experience with the literary genre of mystery/ detective fiction, including conventions and subgenres, and offer a taste of literary criticism as it affects this branch of literature. The course will also offer practice in analyzing and appreciating some of the themes and literary techniques that make the mystery genre so popular, especially as the genre relates to issues of a broader, interdisciplinary nature (e.g., history, sociology, medicine, politics, etc.). More than just an opportunity to enjoy some fine works of literature, this course is intended to provide analytical skills that will also deepen understanding of the writers' construction of their mysteries and their individual takes on familiar mystery conventions.


This is both a content and a skills course, so attendance is vitally important to get the most from the material and to help prepare you for the kinds of textual analysis and discussion that you will be expected to include in your paper, on the midterm, and on the final exam, but I will neither grade nor require it. However, learning is reduced and grades suffer when students skip classes frequently. Remember: you are responsible for everything covered in class; points may be given for class activities, and various quizzes will be given frequently, with make-ups at my discretion.

Participation will not be graded, either, but it is strongly encouraged. Lively discussion is an excellent sign of preparation and understanding and offers practice with ideas and analysis. Besides, it's more fun than lectures!


Each novel will have a reading quiz on the day we begin discussing it. I will also ask you informal oral quiz questions about the short stories and readings, but those points are part of your exercise grade (see next paragraph). Quizzes will cover major points of plot, character, theme, setting, etc., and you may use any handwritten notes on separate paper that you yourself have taken on the novels and stories (no copies of anyone else's work allowed!). If you miss a quiz, you have only until the next class to make it up, so contact me ASAP; once I go over answers in class, it’s too late.

Written assignments and in-class activities will also contribute to the exercise portion of your grade; this grade will be based on the same percentage of points listed here that you earned throughout the semester. There is also a short lit paper, described in the Readings. Late work will receive a late penalty of one point per school day unless we’ve talked about it and agreed on an extension or waiver. Please note: assignments more than two weeks late will not be accepted (unless we’ve talked about it), and plagiarism or cheating in any form is unacceptable!

Attention 492 and Honors students: There is a separate handout for you with additional activities for you to choose from in partial fulfillment of your course requirements.


There will be a short essay midterm and a slightly longer essay final exam, both covering the books and short stories read for class. During both exams, you may use the books themselves, any of our handouts and readings, and any notes you yourself have taken on the books; you may not use anyone else's notes or papers or any other materials (e.g., online sources or journal articles). Thus, the tests are open book and open notes.


The Writing Lab offers individualized feedback and help with all kinds of grammar, writing, and research questions. I will be grading grammar, organization, and research skills in written assignments, especially on the lit paper, so feel free to visit the Writing Lab (in the Academic Support Center (ASC) next to Cisel Hall) for all kinds of extra feedback and help. I will also read any drafts of any assignment that anyone cares to show me.

Disability Support Services (DSS, in the ASC) and Student Opportunity Services (SOS, in the library, first floor) also provide a variety of services to students with special needs. Please ask me for more information about them.


Grading will be done on a point system. In percentage terms:

Exercises 100 points 26.3% 342-380 = A A+ = 97-100%

Reading quizzes 60 points 15.8% 304-341 = B A = 93-96%

Midterm 60 points 15.8% 266-303 = C A- = 90-92%

Paper 100 points 26.3% 228-265 = D etc.

Final exam 60 points 15.8% Below 228 = F

TOTAL 380 points 100%

Incompletes in this course will be given only if we discuss the situation ahead of time and sign a contract stating what work must be done and by what date.

SYLLABUS (subject to change as time and interests require):

LA = The Longman Anthology, with author names and starting page number following; book titles are in italics; R = readings on e-reserve (reading numbers follow). Homework will be assigned in class.

1 Jan 12-14 Introductions, course overview, crimography, basic terms, issues, history

LA Intro, p. 1+; John Ball, p. 11+; R #2-11


Jan 19-21 More background information and readings

LA Maida & Spornick, p. 29+; (SPOILER ALERT! Do not read pp. 35-36 on Ackroyd until after you’ve read the book!); Talburt & Young, p. 39+; Poe, p. 54+; Conan Doyle, p. 81+; R #12-14
3 Jan 24-28 Golden Age mysteries

Christie, p. 101+; Queen, p. 151+; Christie, The Murder of

Roger Ackroyd

4 Jan 31-Feb 4 More Murder

5 Feb 7-11 Hard-boiled mysteries

LA Chandler, p. 208+; Hammett, p. 229+; Hammett, Red Harvest
6 Feb 14-18 More Harvest; feminist mysteries

LA Kaufman & Kay, p. 219+; Grafton, p. 294+; Paretsky, p. 308+;

Paretsky, Bitter Medicine


Feb 23-25 More Medicine

8 Feb 28-Mar 4 SPRING BREAK!
9 Mar 7 Research review, as needed; R #19-24

Mar 9 REVIEW; R #17-18

Mar 11 MIDTERM (open book)

10 Mar 14-18 Ethnic mysteries/police procedurals:

LA Panek, p. 341+; McBain, p. 358+; Hillerman, p. 411+; Hillerman,

A Thief of Time
11 Mar 21-25 International mysteries

LA Simenon, p. 373+; Smith, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
12 Mar 28-Apr 1 More Ladies; regional mysteries: Johnson, The Cold Dish
13 Apr 4-8 More Dish; PAPERS DUE April 8

14 Apr 11-15 Paper sharing; course evaluations; study guide; R #25
15 Apr 18 REVIEW; R #17-18

Apr 20 AV Day? Other?


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