Sunday, July 25, 2010

Auckland University starts Classic Detective Fiction course

Somehow I missed this, which is a shame because I usually keep an eye on the University of Auckland's Continuing Education courses (I've previously done a couple of travel writing and screenwriting courses there), but this past week a new CCE course on 'Classic Detective Fiction' just began - it's six weeks of night classes on appreciation for the crime fiction genre.

Is it just me, or does crime fiction seem to be slowly creeping into the wider consciousness in New Zealand? Dr Siv Jansson, who teaches English at the University, is taking the course, and "admits to being somewhat of a fanatic herself" when it comes to crime fiction. "This course is an opportunity for her to spend time talking about and sharing her love for her favourite genre."

As Dr Jansson says: “Crime fiction readers are extremely discerning and knowledgeable about their books and I anticipate that I will learn a lot myself during the six weeks of the course. While there will be discussion of form, technique and generic aspects, the course is also a celebration of the pleasure of reading crime fiction.” Should the course prove a success, Dr Jansson plans to follow it with further courses on different aspects of detective fiction.

The 'learning outcomes' for the course are that: "On completion of the course learners will be able to demonstrate a wider knowledge of crime fiction; describe the comparative elements of different crime writers; identify the elements of form, narrative, plot, character and the different strategies of classic and contemporary classic crime fiction."

What I am interested in, is what do you, the knowledgeable crime fiction readers out there, think of the reading list for this course? If you were doing a 6-week course on crime fiction, a kind of introductory, overview course, how would this list of books/topics/examples stack up?

Recommended Reading:
  • Marsh, Ngaio, Died in the Wool
  • Doyle, Arthur Conan, The hound of the Baskervilles,
  • Christie, Agatha, Murder on the Orient Express
  • Doyle, Arthur Conan, The adventures of Sherlock Holmes & the memoirs of Sherlock Holmes,
  • Christie, Agatha, The murder of Roger Ackroyd
  • Hammett, Dashiell, The Maltese falcon
  • Chandler, Raymond, Farewell my lovely
  • George, Elizabeth, With no one as witness
  • James, P. D., Devices and desires
  • Mankell, Henning, Before the frost
  • Rankin, Ian, The naming of the dead
  • Walters, Minette, The ice house
  • Reichs, Kathy, 206 Bones
Now of course if you got 100 crime fiction fans in a room and asked them to pick the dozen or so crime novels that should make up an introductory, overview of the genre reading list for such a 6-week night course, you'd probably end up with 100 completely different lists. But overall, what do you think of the list? Is it a good balance, a good spread, even if you'd change a few books here and there?

Personally I think if you're doing a quick overview, then it's got some of the must-haves (Conan Doyle, Christie, Hammett, Chandler, PD James), and it's great they've got a Ngaio Marsh book there too. For modern stuff then Rankin and Mankell are reasonably understandable choices, but I'd question Walters, Reichs and George as being the best representatives of 'modern crime fiction'... especially when there are other authors (eg James Lee Burke, Sarah Paretsky and Michael Connelly, just off the top of my head) who are perhaps much more important and influential to the genre etc.

If there's any weakness in the overall course content/line-up, that would be where I'd see it. But that's just my opinion, and that's the great thing about these types of things. They are great debate starters - and it's the conversation that's more important than the answer.

What do you think of the course? The recommended reading list? Would you take such a night course on appreciation of crime fiction? Thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. Sounds excellent- be nice to see The Mystery of the Hansom Cab on it though.

  2. Aside from quibbles about authors and titles, I definitely would sign up for this course.

    It's a "Classic" course, so of course one must have Doyle, Christie, Chandler, Hammett, and Marsh. I might add Sayers because her Lord Peter Wimsey seems to have set a trend for the high-born talented amateur detective. I would substitute a Miss Marple for Poiret (but that's personal preference).

    PD James is a must for the complex cerebral contemporary police procedural. I would add Karin Fossum and Henning Mankell for examples of the foreign writers. But, there are so many other good foreign writers now available through translation that it's now a matter of personal preference.

    I'm sure others can come up with equally satisfying lists.

  3. I have a great guest blogger on my blog next week picking twelve books [a Dartmoor Dozen] that give a flavour of crime fiction for a new student of the genre.
    I would probably go on this course to get some ideas, but I would feel that Walters, George and Reichs don't warrant on the reading list and should be replaced by Reginald Hill, Colin Dexter, Ruth Rendell and Michael Connelly.
    I personally would also have Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo on my reading list as they were the first of the Scandinavians.

  4. On the whole I approve of the list, but like Norman I would want it to include one of Sjöwall and Wahlöö´s classics.

  5. On reflection, I'd add Edgar Allan Poe's short stories (since they are generally credited as starting the 'detective' genre), and I agree with Kerrie - THE MYSTERY OF THE HANSOM CAB would be a great addition (biggest selling detective novel of the 19th century - outsold Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins etc), especially because of the ANZAC connection there.

    Sjowall and Wahloo would be an excellent addition for a future course, especially given the focus on Swedish/Scandinavian crime recently (and with them being the originators, so to speak), plus their importance along with American Ed McBain with developing police procedurals.

    I still think it's really the 'modern' choices that overall let the list down as a representative body...

  6. What? No Simenon, Poe, Erle Stanley Gardner? Great they're offering the subject though!

  7. It would be a fun course to attend, even though I do agree with you that the 'modern' authors aren't terribly representative. I'd go for Patricia Cornwell's POSTMORTEM over any of those modern titles (her latest stuff is pretty woeful but her first book really was quite splendid and took the genre into the forensic territory well and truly).

    I find it odd that there are only 3.5 American entries (I'm counting the Elizabeth George as the .5) given that US writers have had such influence on the genre. I think I'd have something by George Pelecanos or Michael Connelly as well.

  8. I agree with the Postmortem thought Bernadette. Much more important than any of Reichs' stuff - regardless of what I think of Cornwell's later work. It also foreshadowed all the CSI-type stuff on TV too - really taking a scientific focus in crime storytelling

  9. In his later years Albert Einstein came to be considered a secular saint for proclamations like "Nothing that I can do will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice, I can help in the greatest of all causes - goodwill among men and peace on earth." His younger years were different.

    Three years ago I published a research paper on the real-life mystery of Einstein's illegitimate daughter titled 'A Vital Detail In The Story of Albert Einstein' ( Now my 'Fourth Theory' on her fate forms the basis of the new Sherlock Holmes novel -

    Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein's Daughter

    In late 1903 Albert Einstein's illegitimate daughter 'Lieserl' disappears without trace in Serbia aged around 21 months. As Holmes exclaims in 'the Mystery of Einstein's Daughter', ‘the most ruthless effort has been made by public officials, priests, monks, friends, relatives and relatives by marriage to seek out and destroy every document with Lieserl’s name on it. The question is – why?’

    ‘Lieserl’s fate shadows the Einstein legend like some unsolved equation’ Frederic Golden Time Magazine

    Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery of Einstein's Daughter is available at (re. review copies contact Steve Emecz at or

    Tim Symonds was born in London. He grew up in Somerset, Dorset and Guernsey. After several years working in the Kenya Highlands and along the Zambezi River he emigrated to the United States. He studied in Germany at Göttingen and at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in Political Science. Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery Of Einstein’s Daughter was written in a converted oast house near Rudyard Kipling’s old home Bateman’s in Sussex and in the forests and hidden valleys of the Sussex High Weald.
    The author’s other detective novels include Sherlock Holmes and The Dead Boer at Scotney Castle and Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Bulgarian Codex.
    He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.