Genre: Between Safety and Danger

Suspense: Between Safety and Danger

Course Description:

The Suspense genre is like a tightrope, which keeps the reader suspended between safety and danger. Despite this suspension, it achieves its narrative momentum by playing on our death wish, or a desire for a final resolution. In this course, we will focus on the hard-boiled detective genre, its origins in post-Prohibition America, and the enduring centrality of the big city as the genre develops across the years. The liminal figure of the detective helps the reader navigate the vast and dangerous expanse of the modern city by unhesitatingly knocking on unfamiliar doors. He/she takes us beyond the familiar neighborhood, making the strange familiar, and the familiar strange. Yet, despite being a mass genre, and therefore bound by rules; the hardboiled detective genre tends to straddle deeper questions of the affirmative versus the negative (“sunshine or noir”), or the desire for truth versus a lingering awareness of the imperfectness of knowledge.

Primary Readings:

  1. Edgar Allan Poe, “The Purloined Letter” (1844)
  2. Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (1939)
  3. Chester Himes, The Real Cool Killers (1959)
  4. Sara Paretsky, Tunnel Vision (1994)


A two-page review essay (5 percent); a four-page short analytical essay (10 percent); a one-page proposal abstract for the long paper (10 percent), and a nine-page long research essay (35 percent). In addition, there will be class activities, peer-review sessions, and a take-home final exam (10 percent). Class attendance and participation in class will count for (30) percent of the final grade. Attendance is mandatory.