RARA-AVIS: English 480 Detective Fiction Booklist

From: Frederick Zackel ( fzackel@wcnet.org)
Date: 02 Jun 2008

(Blatant self-promotion rears its ugly head again.)

You are registered for English 480 (online) Detective in Literature course for the second summer session.

The course begins four (4) weeks from today.

Your first course requirement: Hang onto to this and all other emails from me. Archive them in a safe place where you can get at them when I am not available.

A copy of this message has been attached to this email because Microsoft and Blackboard are sometimes incompatible. Glitches and gremlins happen.

In twenty-eight days you will receive emails with more specific details about the course. Once the course website opens, I suggest you check out Course Information first and foremost.

The Course Information folder inside the course website contains all the information you expect from a Course Syllabus. Blackboard (our operating system) just calls it Course Information.

The course website will be open 24/7 until the final day of our class, which is Friday, August 8th.

You will have a handful of quizzes, one per novel, to complete and one (1) essay to write.

The essay assignment will be due Monday, August 4th.

First things first: To take this course, you are not expected to be living in Bowling Green. (That is one reason it is called a Distance Course.)

 Starting that Monday, the first day of class, you can tour and browse and prowl the ENGLISH 480 website any time at your leisure, almost like a theme park.

All of it -- except for the quizzes -- will be always open to you until 4:30 pm on the last day of the semester.

Starting that Monday, June 30th, the course website will be open. Not before.

This site is however under construction, which means I will be still tinkering with chapters before they pop up on the schedule. Not all materials will be up yet. Some materials might not appear until their deadlines.

Glitches and gremlins may also pop up. We will deal with them as they pop up.

I will be monitoring the progress of this course. Adjustments will be made in quizzes and other assignments as the class progresses.

Students should try not to fall behind in their readings or in their assignments. Time management is very important during a six week summer session and its distractions.

Also, online courses do not meet at specific times or at specific places.

Class meetings are arranged by you according to your schedule. That is, you log in and do the assignment according to your schedule, and not at some pre-arranged class time. When you have completed that one, you may immediately move onto the next one, or (more likely) return at another assignment at a more convenient time. So, for instance, if you want to log-in from Sidney, Australia, after midnight, the course material is there.

The tests are taken online, while your essay will be attached at the course website. More about that later. This email is already too long.

I will be monitoring, an email away from everybody. If you email me with a question, I will pass the answer onto every student in the course. Your privacy will be maintained, of course.

"What greater prestige can a man like me (not too gifted, but very understanding) have than to have taken a cheap, shoddy and utterly lost kind of writing, and have made of it something that intellectuals claw each other about?" ~ Raymond Chandler

This course will focus on detective stories, novels and films in nineteenth- and twentieth-century America. This course will also consider how particular literary and intellectual movements (e.g. romanticism, modernism, postmodernism) shape the detective story form.

So we will read work by masters of the genre, past and present, locate the genre in literary (and human) history, trace its development, and understand its relationship to culture. We will also examine how detective fiction has been appropriated by postmodern styles and concerns.

Like many other literature courses, Detective Literature is not meant to be exhaustive nor definitive. That only comes with a lifetime of reading, much more than we can cover in 6 weeks.

The texts all have a curiously subversive if not downright unsavory pedigree, yet all are now considered de rigueur for a course in Detective Fiction.

These novels should be available almost anywhere. In fact, none of these has ever been out of print.

They also read fast. They are page-turners, by definition. They were built for the beach.

The book list for the course also includes Edgar Allan Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue," but that is available online from a variety of websites.

We do Murders in the Rue Morgue first. You might want to download a copy.

The French poet Charles Baudelaire pops in, too, in the first few days, with his mean streets of Paris. Baudelaire is the bridge between Poe and Conan Doyle. His materials will be available on the website.

Required Texts, in the order we will encounter them.

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Hound of the Baskervilles. This novel is also available on the internet. You do not have to buy it. You can download it. Your choice, of course.

Christie, Agatha. 4:50 from Paddington.

Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon.

Chandler, Raymond. The Big Sleep.

Macdonald, Ross. The Underground Man.

Mosley, Walter. Little Scarlet: An Easy Rawlins. Mystery Warner Vision; Reprint edition (April 1, 2005) 0446612715

Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. Harper Perennial Modern Classics
(April 1, 1999) 0060931671

Chabon, Michael. The Final Solution: A Story of Detection. Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (November 1, 2005) 0060777109

Any edition of the above books is fine, including public library editions.

Some detective movies are required, while the others are great background.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974) is required
 aka "Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express" and is required.

The Maltese Falcon (1941) is required.

The Big Sleep (1946) is required.

Chinatown (1974) is required.

The following are NOT required, but truly belong. Go get a 2 liter Pepsi and some popcorn and enjoy. Each of these has deeper meanings, too.

Blade Runner (1982)

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Topics to be discussed will include the nature and the role of the detective hero, the principles governing the presentation of information concerning the crime, the social attitudes manifested by the style of the presentation, and understanding of style, ethnicity, gender, violence, and finally whether the genre is "art."

The Usual Suspects will be interrogated, and they will most likely include film noir, the femme fatale, social class in Victorian and Edwardian England, the California Dream, the changing sexual politics of crime writing, justice and detection, the shifting nature of the hero, "formula fiction," the relationship between the detective and the reader, and the modern detective novel's preoccupation with location.

Look for these books at the University Bookstore (on-campus or on-line) or through Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. Check Grounds for Thought, if you live here in Bowling Green.

They may be available at other outlets, too. Check out Half-price Books in Dayton, Columbus, Cleveland, etc. They may also be available as a used-book at BookFinder.com and at Half.com. Free shipping may also be available online.

You will need these books to complete the quizzes.

Completing the quizzes is your responsibility. Not having a copy of the book does not alter that responsibility.


The books can be ordered from any source. Go for the cheapest edition.

To take this course, you are not expected to be living in Bowling Green.
(That is another reason it is called a Distance Course. Your books take forever to get to you.)

I recommend you shop around for somebody who will ship it quickly. We do not have the luxury of waiting until the last Monday of the class.

If there is an obstacle like this in your path, go around the obstacle.

There are quizzes and one essay assignment. But today seems a bit premature to be giving out all those details. A course calendar will evolve. Do not email me now asking what they are because you would like to get an early start on them.

This course is like Disney World. You cannot get on a ride until the park opens.

On the other hand, relax now by reading one or more of them. People relax in the summer by reading detective novels. Trust me. Few will suspect you are actually studying for a class.

This course website will be open 24/7 until the final day of the session.

As I wrote above, the course opens on Monday, June 30th, twenty-eight (28) days from now. On that day you will receive emails with more specific details about the course.

Check out the Course Information folder first and foremost.

When you first visit the course website, you might feel overwhelmed by how much material you will be expected to get through.

That is an optical illusion.

The material at the course website will be dealt with bit by bit. Just like the material in your chemistry or philosophy books get dealt with bit by bit.

We will have a couple quizzes available every five or six days. Yes, two at a time, for your convenience and for flexibility.

Once a quiz is posted, it will stay open until the last day of the course.

Let me repeat that:

We will have a couple quizzes every five or six days.

Once a quiz is posted, it will stay open until the last day of the course.

Once the class begins, click on the Assignments folder for the most current course assignments and scheduled quizzes.

The hardest, most difficult part of being out in the real world is finding time to sit down and read. Once you graduate -- you should sit down and read. As often as you can. Read whatever it is that pops up in front of you. Look how far reading has gotten you already. Think how far reading will get you in the future.

So read a detective novel. That is what most people do for fun in the summer time.

This summer you will get academic credit for it.

To get you ruminating about these books in advance, how about if I tell you beforehand who the killer is or are in each book?

Oh, have I ruined the book for you? Or would you read the book differently if you know the ending?

If you know the ending, when you do read it for the first time, would you be able to see how the author designed and constructed it? That way you can see the author's mind at work, right?

Suppose when you buy your books, the clerk at the register tells you in each case Who did it?

How would you feel? Why is that so bad?

How many texts have you read in your coursework fit the above conundrum? What does this suggest about the arena we will be entering?

The word itself, arena, comes from the Latin. It means blood and sand. At its earliest, it meant the gladiatorial battles in the Roman coliseum. Now it means Spanish bullfighting.

The detective as bullfighter? Could be.

Starting on the first day of class, you can tour and browse and prowl the ENGLISH 480 website any time at your leisure, almost like a theme park.

All of it will be always open to you 24 / 7 until the last day of the session.

Email your questions and I will answer as soon as feasible.

To repeat, I will send you more information on the first day of class, the day that the course website opens.

I hope you have a pleasant summer.

Frederick Zackel, Ph.D.

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