Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Help me out: Crime Stories

W6 readers, give me a hand with something, will you?  I'm designing a new Cornell class, a First-Year Seminar called Crime Stories.  It will be a survey of crime fiction since the dawn of time, with written critical responses.  (I always allow at least one creative one, too.)

I have a few things I will definitely use: The Big Sleep.  Sjowall and Wahloo's The Laughing Policeman.  One heist novel, probably one of Richard Stark's Parker novels.  One genre-buster, perhaps Jonathan Lethem's Gun, With Occasional Music or China Mieville's recent The City And The City.  I will of course use a Poe story and a Conan Doyle story.

But what else?  I'd like more women (besides Maj Sjowall).  Dorothy Sayers?  Patricia Highsmith?  (Maybe Strangers On A Train.)  I wouldn't mind using Tana French's The Likeness, but it's rather long.  Ruth Rendell / Barbara Vine?  She writes great crime novels but I don't know what I'd say about them in a college class.  Karin Fossum perhaps?  Can a case be made for Shirley Jackson?  I am thinking of We Have Always Lived In The Castle.

Or writers of color--Walter Mosley?  I'd like to get a couple more pre-war writers maybe.  It's a 14-week semester and each week will be either one or two short stories, or a short novel, or half a long novel.  Would love your ideas.  Especially if you are a Cornell freshman who happens to be registered for the class.

36 comments:

George F. Snell III said...

If you are looking to add a contemporary novel to the mix I'd suggest "Small Crimes" by Dave Zeltserman. Dark post-noir novel with an unreliable narrator that's a seedy blast.

Another more contemporary crime novel with a savage outlook and a tightly plotted paranoid fantasy is Stephen Hunter's "Point of Impact."

If you want one of the best revenge novels around (even better than the Parker novels - and those are good) is A.J. Quinnell's "Man on Fire."

A classic you should consider is John F. Ball's "In the Heat of the Night." Great crime novel, but so much more a mediation of race relations in the mid-century south.

Good luck with the class. Sounds like it will be a hit.

Anonymous said...

I assume you're including Elmore Leonard somewhere.

Maybe a western novel, you know, one that heavily involves crime? You could probably easily get them into True Grit, especially if any of them have seen the John Wayne movie.

Or bet the farm and see if they can handle Blood Meridian.

Levi Stahl said...

Depending on your students, I think the length of The Likeness could easily be forgiven, even overlooked: I've yet to encounter anyone who's read it who wasn't completely sucked in.

An alternative would be the novel to which French has acknowledged she owes the greatest debt for that book, Donna Tartt's The Secret History. It's been, what, nearly twenty years since I read it, so my memories aren't necessarily reliable, but I remember reading it in a rush.

You also couldn't go wrong with Highsmith; The Talented Mr. Ripley remains stunning and creepy.

Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know is a recent novel you might look at, if you're still in search of female writers. And if you're looking for pre-war people, you might look at some of Hammett's Continental Op stories, or you could give them a puzzle mystery or two, Anthony Berkeley, maybe? Or, if close counts, Kenneth Fearing's The Big Clock, from 1946? It's truly suspenseful and offers an unexpectedly strange, wonderfully detailed view of New York life in that era.

Good luck with the class--this should be fun!

christopher said...

When I did a class like this a few years ago one of the books we studied was 'In the Cut' by Susanna Moore.

jrlennon said...

Thanks, these are excellent suggestions! George Snell, I haven't read any of those, I will check them out of the library tomorrow. Continental Op is a must, great idea...Tartt is another good idea, as is Leonard, for the dialogue alone. Lippman and Moore I wasn't wild about, though, when I read them.

Blood Meridian is also intriguing but perhaps No Country For Old Men might be a better choice for freshmen, as it's shorter, less dense, and a story they might already be familiar with. And mixes crime and western, to boot.

Levi Stahl said...

One other idea for pre-war: one of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries. They're funny, a bit formulaic, full of incidental period detail, and Stout's use of the vernacular, particularly slang, in the narrative voice he gives Archie Goodwin is a thing of beauty. His debt to Wodehouse is obvious, and a pleasure to see.

5 Red Pandas said...

Josephine Tey us supposed to be an oldie but goodie. I think Tana French cites her as an influence.

OR

How about a Japanese one?
You could sneak in a Murakami (sorta cheating) or go with one of these:

Inspector Imanishi Investigates is a post war book about an Inspector who is also a poet.

http://www.amazon.com/Inspector-Imanishi-Investigates-Soho-crime/dp/1569470197

Miyuki Miyabe- All She was Worth

Natsuo Kirino (though I only really liked "Out")

A Chinese writer living and writing in America is Qiu Xiaolong. His detective Chen rubs against the Communist government and its restrictions. He's also a poet. His first one is "Death of a Red Heroine"

Almost all of these say something about their society besides the crime aspect.

Jay Livingston said...

Simenon?

jon said...

James M. Cain: Double Indemnity or the Postman Always Rings Twice. Nathaniel West's Day of the Locust. Charles Willeford: Pick Up, or Miami Blues, or The Burnt Orange Heresy. Willeford is a late entry to traditional noir. He is hilarious, a little weird, very smart and knowing, minimalist but full of the dark imaginings of American hardboiled noir. There's always Cornell Woolrich, but I haven't read him. Jim Thompson, The Grifters, The Getaway, The Killer Inside Me. Chester Himes wrote Cotton Comes to Harlem and a bunch of other short crime stories.

Anonymous said...

What about Auster?

Anonymous said...

If you're going to go with Elmore Leonard, why not go with the guy Leonard called the master: "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," by George V. Higgins.

zoe said...

What about Scottish Noir? Denise Mina, Ian Rankin or Philip Kerr (who although Scottish, writes historical Berlin noir). Or Scandinavian crime?

Hope said...

What, no Raymond Chandler?

Also, Donna Tartt and Ruth Rendell both get my thumbs-up!

jrlennon said...

Of course Chandler? Didn't you see "The Big Sleep?"

Remember, they can't just be fun to read--you gotta be able to say something about them in class!

Sung said...

Anonymous beat me to it -- I vote for Paul Auster's City of Glass.

Also, check out Lawrence Block's novella in Ed McBain's anthology Transgressions. Point of view of a hitman, involves 9/11, just a great story all around.

For a literary-mystery short story, check out Don Lee's "The Price of Eggs in China" in his collection Yellow. Funny, smart, and keeps you guessing until the end (and even beyond).

This sounds like such a great class -- makes me wish I was a freshman at Cornell again. Actually, no. I hated my freshman year!

- Sung

Z Cole said...

Perhaps "Dead Boys" by Richard Lange?

Rebecca said...

Prewar: Dashiel Hammett
The quintessential female mystery writer: Agatha Christie

Anonymous said...

Let the Dog Drive by David Bowman might qualify as a genre-buster.

Drew said...

Jim Thompson is a given right? Pop. 1280 or The Killer Inside Me. Both indispensable. Quick, fun reads that would be great for freshmen.

violentbore said...

I don't regularly read the crime genre, which might explain why Lethem's "Motherless Brooklyn" comes to mind.

This may fit into your category of books that are just fun to read. Who knows? Tourette Syndrome in a freshman class might be fun as well.

mike said...

I think Hammett's "Red Harvest" is essential for any class on crime fiction. It predates "The Big Sleep" by a decade, and provides a rich contrast with many of the archetypes that Chandler established: instead of Marlowe (who is not himself mean) you get the Continental Op: nasty, brutish, and short.

Plus, it's just a hell of a read.

Throwing in "The Trial" or "The Crying of Lot 49" might be fun to push students' ideas of what a crime novel is, exactly.

mike said...

Oh, and to up your count of female authors, Dorothy B. Hughes "In a Lonely Place" is a great choice.

Wyatt Bonikowski said...

I have taught Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House in a Mystery Stories course (begins with an investigation, but of course there's no "answer" to the mystery) but I could certainly see We Have Always Lived in the Castle working as well (I taught it in a course on the uncanny, and it went well). Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley teaches really well, too, in my experience.

Kevin said...

I'll second the Chester Himes suggestion -- "Blind Man With A Pistol" is killer -- and double down on Williford, too. Miami Blues is much fun, The Pick-Up is considerably darker.

Also, dude, you were here in Montana for a while -- no Jim Crumley? The Last Good Kiss would be the one I'd pick. Also, maybe, The Crying of Lot 49, which is at heart a novel of detection. With no detection.

You're inspiring me here. I wonder if there's a techniques class in here somewhere -- pair up hard thrillers and literary descendants. Could be fun.

christianbauman said...

Patricia Highsmith...yes. Also, I'm a huge fan of Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko novels (Gorky Park, et al). He's such a rich character, and the arc of the series is a great narrative of the decline, fall, and after-life of Soviet Russia.

Anonymous said...

The following quote is from a Playboy(Mexico) interview with Roberto Bolano(2003): "I would have liked to been a homicide detective, much more than a writer. Of that I am absolutely sure. A string of homicides. Soemone who could go back alone at night, to the scene of the crime, and not be afraid of ghosts."

Anonymous said...

Maybe try GK Chesterton, like his Father Brown stories or The Man Who Was Thursday.

Anonymous said...

Oedipus Rex.

jrlennon said...

Hey all, this is awesome. I'm going to transfer all this to a list and hit the library next week to make some decisions. You know, I teach The Man Who Was Thursday in another class but hadn't thought to use it here--a great idea. And short, too. I am teaching it tomorrow in fact.

No Radio said...

Yes on Chesterton (one or two Father Browns), Highsmith (Ripley rather than Strangers) and Hammett's Red Harvest, uber alles. Consider also (short piece) Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's "In a Bamboo Grove".

If you can find a copy, Seth Morgan's Homeboy is one of my absolute favorite books. Also in the sadly out of print category, Jim Thompson's Pop 1240 and Brautigan's Dreaming of Babylon. Maybe a shorter Murakami book? Thinking perhaps of Wild Sheep Chase. Maybe Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo or (even better) The Last Days of Louisiana Red.

Graphic novels are also worth keeping in mind on this one. Nowhereville, From Hell, Fell, Sin City, Hard Boiled.

jon said...

Homeboy! I love that book. I own 2 copies (I think). What happened to Seth Morgan?

Ken F. said...

As for Tana French, I much preferred Faithful Place to The Likeness, which struck me as too farfetched a premise.

No Radio said...

Morgan died in a motorcycle accident less than a year after Homeboy was published. Sad stuff.

Anonymous said...

How about Jerome Charyn? 'Blue Eyes' or 'Paradise Man'. Jewish magic-realist crime fiction. Like Issac Babel in the bronx.

Anonymous said...

Maybe someone already mentioned Ross Macdonald, but I would suggest The Moving Target. Daniel Woodrell? One of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novels might be interesting, like Fer-de-Lance. Personally, I prefer Jim Thompson, Chester Himes, Highsmith, and Chandler, but I'm just trying to fill in some gaps here. There's also Death of the Detective by Mark Smith.

Yetsuh said...

Sort of surprised no one has mentioned George Simenon's Inspector Maigret series. They are pulpy, so not literary, in the manner of Chandler or even Highsmith, but they are also foundational. And short.