English 157 - Spring, 2022

Detective Fiction

Class Information

Instructor: Dobbins, Gregory
CRN: 62160
Time: MWF 12:10-1:00
Location: 118 Olson
GE Areas: Writing Experience


"Hard-Boiled/Noir/Neo-Noir Crime Fiction"

This course will not concern the history of the detective novel in general-- instead, it will focus exclusively on two specific sub-genres: "hard-boiled crime fiction" and "noir film". The Hard-Boiled detective novel first emerged in California the 1920s and 1930s in the works of writers like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James Cain. It referred to what was then a new trajectory in crime writing: these novels were bleaker, more violent, and often focused on the exposure of systematic and institutional corruption. These novelists consciously developed their respective approaches to the detective novel AGAINST the more staid English model of the detective novel identified with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy Sayers. Later, once the works of the "hard-boiled" writers were made into films, the term "noir" came into use when they started to appear in post-WWII France. While the sense of "darkness" captured by the word noir in part referred to the formal characteristics evident in these films, it also captured the sense of bleakness that these films (and the novels on which they were based) expressed as a persistent thematic concern. By now, "noir" loosely refers to a sub-genre of twentieth-century crime-writing that begins roughly 100 years ago and continues into the present day.

This course will consist of three clusters of writers who engage with the standard tropes of hard-boiled/noir crime fiction. We will begin with classic novels by Hammett, Cain, and Chandler that helped establish the thematic and formal conventions of hard-boiled fiction. We will then read a group of subsequent women writers (Caspary, Hughes, and Highsmith) who rewrote those conventions in the light of both film noir and an emerging sense of proto-feminism. Finally, we will consider a group of neo-noir writers from the late 20th-century who revived hard-boiled/noir conventions for more contemporary purposes, whether in regard to Thatcher's Britain (Raymond) or the United States (Mosley and Abbott).We will also be watching film adaptations of the first six wriyers on the syllabus.


Two essays, a short writing assignment concerning Noir film adaptations of hard-boiled crime narratives, frequent discussion journal entries, and a take-home final exam.


The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
Double Indemnity, James Cain
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
Laura, Vera Caspary
In a Lonely Place, Dorothy Hughes
Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith
He Died with his Eyes Open, Derek Raymond
Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosley
Queenpin, Megan Abbott