On a dark, shadowy, cobblestone pavement in Victorian England, a pipe-smoking genius works with Scotland Yard to make meticulous observations and apply algorithm-like calculations that unravel impossible mysteries…
In an internet café in Sweden, a chain-smoking computer hacker, working alone and outside the lines of legal constraints, creates actual algorithms that help her to decipher unfathomable puzzles. At first glance, it might seem like a long and winding road from Sherlock Holmes to Lisbeth Salander, but peer deeper into the captivating genre of mystery and suspense and you’ll find that different characters, eras, and locations often share familiar traits.
Great mystery and suspense writers have created some of the most unforgettable stories in all of literature. Even readers who don’t consider themselves fans of this intriguing genre are familiar with names such as Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade, Hannibal Lecter, and Robert Langdon, and understand the deep and lasting impact this writing has had on literature as a whole. An utterly captivating and compelling genre, mystery and suspense has leapt off the pages of the old dime store paperbacks, magazines, and comic books onto big screens, small screens, radio serials, podcasts, websites, and more. You’ll find elements, characters, and references permeating popular culture and news reports worldwide, and bleeding into other literary genres such as romance, political thrillers, sports stories, and even biographies. Nearly 200 years old, the genre of mystery and suspense literature is only growing more popular.
How did it become so prevalent? Why is mystery and suspense a go-to genre for so many readers around the world? What makes the dark and sometimes grisly themes appealing? In the 24 lectures of The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction, Professor David Schmid of the University at Buffalo examines these questions, as he guides you through an examination the many different varieties of the genre, including:
- classic whodunits
- hard-boiled crime fiction
- historical mysteries
- courtroom dramas
- true crime narratives
- espionage fiction
- and many more
In doing so, you’ll travel the road of mystery and suspense backward and forward in time, around the world, and alongside some of the most amazing minds in literature. You’ll investigate the works of influential authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Thomas Harris, Walter Mosley, and more. You’ll see how the genre has been subverted and revitalized by contemporary writers, how it has affected and been affected by worldwide social and cultural transformations, and how the modern trend of “mash-up” literature (such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) had roots in very early mystery fiction. And by ripping stories from the headlines of real-life psychopaths and serial killers, you’ll see how the genre has—and still does—blur the line between reality and fiction. Most importantly, with the aid of this course, you’ll uncover nuances and themes you’ve probably never considered, no matter how familiar you are with these great works.
It’s Elementary: Examining the Elements of Mystery and Suspense
One of the most captivating components of this course is how Professor Schmid—both an avid fan of mystery and suspense and a scholar of the genre— surveys the same works through many lenses, giving you a different perspective each time. With Professor Schmid as your guide, you’ll examine the use and many variations of characters such as the detective, the criminal, the sidekick, the private eye, the police officer, and the femme fatale, as well as how the interconnections between these character types both define and defy their genres.or example, the relationship between the detective and police or the juxtaposition of criminal and private eye can help delineate subgenres within mystery and suspense fiction.
Professor Schmid considers the ways certain works might utilize clues, solutions, poetic justice, and violence, taking you through centuries of history and various sorts of suspense fiction to pinpoint specific examples. As authors experimented with the form over time, you’ll learn how books with ambiguous or unsolved conclusions became gradually more accepted into the mainstream, reflecting a change in the audience who once saw open-ended conclusions as simply frustrating or unsettling.
He also explores locations and the use of space to set the scene, comparing the claustrophobic panic evoked in the locked-room mysteries of Victorian England, when the killer was hidden in plain sight among the characters, to the open-ended suspicion when anything is possible in the dark back-alleys of noir. In this way, he invites you to reevaluate and reconsider a story you thought you were familiar with.
The Changing Faces of Detectives
The range of works that fall under the scope of Professor Schmid’s course will surprise and delight, as you are introduced to books by many international writers representing diverse racial and social groups. One of the keys to the success of this genre is its unique capacity for embracing real-world social changes while still remaining true to its defining features.
Mystery and suspense fiction is historically known for featuring male, Caucasian characters in the most prominent roles – as both protagonists and antagonists. However, you may be surprised to know that it is increasingly one of the most diversely written genres, with contributions from writers of many races and ethnicities worldwide being embraced. The genre naturally lends itself to illuminating pervasive issues like prejudice and bigotry, becoming a powerful outlet for writers to explore new perspectives.
Throughout the course, Professor Schmid devotes coverage to women, LGBTQ, Latin, Black, and Native American writers and characters, exploring how the context of the setting, the historical injustices, and the unique situations that come with these perspectives forced the classic elements of traditional mysteries to adapt and evolve. He will take you around the world with lectures focused on the influx of mysteries from Europe, Japan, Africa, and Latin America. He also devotes an entire lecture just to Nordic Noir: a distinctive subgenre of crime fiction authored by writers living in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland. Even if you are a mystery aficionado, Professor Schmid will likely introduce you to new names and series that you were not familiar with.
The author of Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in American Culture; coauthor of Zombie Talk: Culture, History, Politics; editor of Violence in American Popular Culture; and coeditor of Globalization and the State in Contemporary Crime Fiction: A World of Crime, Professor Schmid is an expert on the genre, as well as a passionate and lively leader for this survey of a truly fascinating category of fiction. He has designed a course that takes a soup-to-nuts view of mystery and suspense books. Given the vast number of authors, books, time-periods, countries, and subgenres covered in this course, you simply can’t find a more comprehensive view. Fans of suspense will be delighted by the breadth and depth of information presented, guaranteed to uncover gems they had not yet discovered. But anyone, whether they are admirers of mystery on radio and film, or simply fans of literature, history, or pop culture, will find something to enlighten and entertain in this study of a genre with such tremendous impact.
Dive deeper into this genre than ever before with The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction, investigating multiple angles and getting a truly multifaceted picture of a fascinating literary