Mysterious Reading Plans

As I’ve remarked a few times in recent posts, I’m hoping to shake up the reading list for my class on Mystery and Detective Fiction. I introduced it in 2003, and the major texts have been basically the same each time I’ve taught it: some Poe and Conan Doyle and various other short fiction, depending on the anthology I’ve got; Collins’s The Moonstone, Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, P. D. James’s An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, Sue Grafton’s ‘A’ is for Alibi, and Ian Rankin’s Knots and Crosses.

I’ve been having a hard time choosing additions or alternatives, partly because I’m not really an avid reader of mysteries (too often I find them formulaic or gimmicky, or too grim) so the work of filtering out the good or the significant is unappealing. My own taste tends to wordy, British-style character-driven ones, but between P. D. James, Peter Robinson, Elizabeth George, and Ian Rankin, I don’t run out of books to read, and when I want something pithier, well, Robert B. Parker and Dick Francis too keep providing me with new ones (just this weekend I whipped through Now and Then, and last weekend it was Spare Change). I’ve picked up some new authors recently: I like Deborah Crombie well enough, for instance, and for no good reason there are a lot of Reginald Hill titles I haven’t read yet, so I’ve done some catching up. And I keep up with Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky, though I have been finding them kind of flat lately. But what I feel I need for my course is not more of the same kinds already represented on my syllabus but more variety, and some indication of new directions the genre might be going, and no matter how many titles I bring home to take a look at, few leap out as significant or interesting enough to put on a syllabus. So I’ve solicited (and received) suggestions a couple of times here and asked around among my mystery-reading friends and family, and I’ve also been browsing a lot online, where of course there are many sources of information and recommendations, including the excellent blogs Petrona and Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind. I had in mind a more diverse list of writers, perhaps something Canadian, perhaps something from the vast array of ‘international’ crime writers. Here is a list of the titles or authors I’ve come up with from which I hope to draw my new material:

I’ve gathered most of these titles up from the public library and plan a serious course of crime reading over the next couple of weeks (when I’m not reading Adam Bede, of course!). I remain open to suggestions!

The other thought I’ve had, as I work my way through The Wire (just wrapped Season 3), is that it would be exciting and appropriate to work TV in somehow. I’ve included Prime Suspect I in my seminar on Women and Detective Fiction, including this summer, and not only do the themes and action of the series work extremely well with the overall interests of the course, but the shift in genre and medium gives us a lot more to think and talk about. Crime shows are certainly a staple of television drama–but how can it be done? Also, of course, as a television (or film) critic I am a rank amateur, so how could I be sure to do it well?

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