Those who love logic can’t help but be drawn into a good detective story. Intellectual analysis is at the heart of this genre. Detective novels are marvelously engaging reads for teens and this semester we’ll be reading some of the classics… books that will grab even the most reluctant readers. Discussing them with friends will make them all the more memorable and organizing their ideas through their writing will help each student hone their analytical skills. The novels and short stories for this semester are all cornerstones in the development of detective fiction and all provide a wonderful opportunity for students to learn and practice literary analysis:
Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes): A Study in Scarlett and The Sign ofFour – The Sherlock Holmes stories are some of the greatest detective stories ever produced. They were incredibly popular in the late 18th/early 19th Centuries and are still well-loved and well-read today. These were the first 2 short novels and we’ll read them together to give set the stage for our semester of intrigue.
Edgar Allen Poe: “Murder in the Rue Morgue,” “The Purloined Letter,” – Poe is the undisputed father of detective fiction. Arthur Conan Doyle called him “a model for all time." Poe created the amateur detective and his narrator friend, the locked-room mystery, the talented but eccentric amateur sleuth outwitting the official police force, the solution and explanation by the detective, and other ingredients that spiced up the multitude of crime stories that followed. In these two short-stories, he introduces the world to C. Auguste Dupin and inspires an avalanche of crime fiction.
Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone - T.S. Elliot says The Moonstone is "the first, the longest, and the best of detective novels." Oliver Wendell Holmes called The Moonstone "The best there is," and Dorothy Sayers believes it is "Probably the very finest detective story ever written" and "comes about as near perfection as anything of its kind can be." With such high praise, from such eminent authorities, you know this book is nothing short of amazing. Collins focuses on a simple mystery and its solution: who stole the diamond known as the Moonstone, and where did it go? With wonderful exposition and a marvelous parade of characters this book is definitely a page turner and essential part of the history of detective fiction.
Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express – With this classic, we enter what’s known as “The Golden Age” of detective fiction. If you haven’t yet met Detective Hercule Poirot, you’re in for a treat. This is a favorite of many and for good reason. Agatha Christie tells a gripping tale and manages to explore a number of themes involving morality and justice.
Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon – In this last novel we enter the world of the “Hard-Boiled” detective. This novel is considered by many to be the best “American” detective novel of its time. Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett’s cynical, sardonic detective, outmaneuvers both the police and the crooks as he solves the crime. Written in the objective style – the reader sees what each character does and says, but never what they think. Such a style lends itself perfectly to film and the movie rendition of “The Maltese Falcon” is classic film noir. We’ll watch the film as part of our work on this novel.
As we read these compelling books, students will not only have an opportunity to express their ideas, argue their opinions and demonstrate their knowledge in our class discussions, but they will also organize, develop and argue those ideas in their writing. For our class projects, we’ll be incorporating a "literary criticism" approach -- each student will take on a specific position (Character Analyst; Thematic Advisor; Symbolist; Historian/Biographer; or Passage Illuminator) for each novel. Over the course of the semester, students will write five 2-3 page essays related to their “position” for each book. By the end of the semester, the class will have created a full-fledged book entitled “The Read to Write Guide to Mystery & Detective Stories” (We’ll publish this as a paperback book and copies will be available for purchase). Take a look at last semester's class project book HERE! Students will also participate in a variety of other creative writing activities to help them engage with these novels. Students will also have the option of writing longer (4-5 page) essays, so that they may practice developing their ideas and analysis in more detail. Because writing is one of the most important and essential skills a student can learn, we’ll be emphasizing the entire writing process – from planning through drafting and revision. Writing well allows students to express their ideas, argue their opinions and demonstrate their knowledge. As they write about these novels, students will go through the process of organizing, developing and clearly articulating their ideas -- an excellent way to learn about any subject. We will look at essays together as a class so students can also learn about the reactions their writing elicits from others and offer helpful feedback to aid with the revision process. This class will be a great opportunity to enjoy some wonderful novels and practice essential literary analysis and writing skills.