ENG32020 Detecting Fictions: the Crime Novel in America, Britain and Ireland

Academic Year 2023/2024

The course will chart the development of the dynamic, shifting genre of crime fiction, from its origins in the work of Edgar Allan Poe, the key interventions of Wilkie Collins and Arthur Conan Doyle, the 'Golden Age' of Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and Walter Mosley's 'hard boiled' detectives, up to some of the genre's most recent voices: Attica Locke and Tana French.

Key topics for anlaysis will include:
Genre: the ongoing negotiation and subversion of what could be termed the 'rules' of detective fiction
Cultural contexts: variations in the history and development of the crime novel in Britain, America and Ireland
The ideological implications of representations of detection and criminality (especially in relation to race, class and gender)
The relationship between popular fiction and a literary canon.

Students registered to ENG 31780 Contemporary European Crime Fiction should NOT register for this module.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

1. Demonstrate a critical understanding of the genre of crime fiction through close reading of a range of texts across differing historical and cultural contexts (British, American and Irish).
2. Engage with key critical and theoretical concepts relating to race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class and national identities and their representation in the literature of criminality and detection.
3. Apply such concepts and contexts to close analysis of the course texts, analysis that is alert to issues of narrative form, generic convention and ideological inflection.
4. Develop the ability to articulate opinions and argue positions within a seminar group of 24 students.
5. Produce a critical essay on a topic which addresses the key themes of the course, shows engagement with a range of critical sources pertinent to that topic, and works to develop a capacity for independent critical thinking.

Indicative Module Content:

Topics to be explored may include (subject to revision):

Introduction to Course Texts, Contexts and Themes.

Beginnings: The Art of Detection in The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter (Edgar Allan Poe)

The Smear on the Door: ‘Detective-fever’ in The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins)

Excavating the Past: The Sign of Four (Arthur Conan Doyle)

Re-reading ‘The Golden Age’ of Detective Fiction: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie)

The ‘Private’ Eye: Farewell, My Lovely (Raymond Chandler)

Race and Genre 1: Devil in a Blue Dress (Walter Mosley): Rewriting Chandler

Race and Genre 2: The American South in Bluebird, Bluebird (Attica Locke).

Forensic Detail: Body of Evidence (Patricia Cornwell)

The Contemporary Past: Broken Harbour (Tana French)

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning


Seminar (or Webinar)




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:

In advance of each class, a set of key topics/questions will be circulated. These will be based on the kinds of critical debates and concerns that have arisen around the author/text selected for that week. Students will also be invited to submit their own suggestions for discussion topics in advance of class.

Powerpoint slides will be provided to provide an overall sense of the key themes and concerns raised by the primary text, and will also present a range of critical voices in the field, illustrating different theoretical perspectives and readings of that text. This will prepare students for class discussion.

As part of our class, two or three students each week will be asked to 'lead the discussion' through offering their response to one of the topics/questions set. We will then open up to a general discussion, with the group responding to and developing the points raised by those leading.

Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
ENG31780 - Contemporary Crime Fiction

Additional Information:
​​ENG 32020 Detecting Fictions: The Crime Novel in Britain, America and Ireland: students registered to this course should not register to ENG 31780.

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Assignment: 3,000 word final essay. A list of essay questions will be circulated and one must be chosen as the basis for the essay. Varies over the Trimester n/a Graded No


Continuous Assessment: Mid term assignment (20%) and class-based assignments (20%) Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No



Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

There will be two feedback sessions: one following the midterm assignment and one following the end-of-semester essay.

Reading List for ENG 32020 Detecting Fictions (Provisional)

Primary Texts:

Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely, 1940 (any edition)
Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1926 (any edition)
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone, 1868 (any edition)
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four, 1890 (any edition)
Patricia Cornwell, Body of Evidence, 1991 (any edition)
Tana French, Broken Harbour (Hodder and Stoughton, 2013)
Attica Locke, Blue Bird, Blue Bird (2017)
Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress, 1990 (any edition)
Edgar Allan Poe, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1841 (any edition) and ‘The Purloined Letter’, 1844 (any edition)

Secondary Texts:
Laura Marcus, ‘Detection and Literary Fiction’, The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction, ed., Martin Priestman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)
Tzvetan Todorov, ‘The Typology of Crime Fiction’, The Poetics of Prose (1971)

Other secondary sources for specific authors/texts will be posted on Brightspace.