Mystery Stories

Mystery Stories Syllabus

Mystery is the biggest-selling genre in the U.S. and Western Europe.  That fact, combined with my experience of matching students to enjoyable books, lead me to propose a course in the study of mystery writing.


Detective fiction makes a worthwhile reading list because it requires the reader to be actively engaged and to think critically.  The genre has been around long enough to be studied from historical and comparative perspectives. We will discuss the beginnings of the detective story and its metamorphosis into present-day mystery writing.  Please note that because most mystery fiction involves crime, some of the literature we read will contain violence or immoral issues.  If this presents a difficulty, please contact me so that we can find a class more suitable to your needs before the deadline to transfer to another class in three days.


Course objectives:

To create a positive, enjoyable learning experience that will encourage reading

To improve critical thinking and observation skills

To increase recognition and use of vocabulary

To understand the history and development of the mystery genre

To recognize stereotypes and cultural values reflected in literature of different periods

To incorporate timely, popular literature that reflects today’s multi-cultural, gender-fair values

To identify the conventions of a mystery

To understand the various media involved with the mystery genre



Unit 1:  The Criminal Protagonist


“A Retrieved Reformation” by O. Henry (1905)

Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale (1980)


Unit 2:  The Origins of the Detective story


“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe (1841)

“The Adventure of the Speckled Band” by Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)

View The Hound of the Baskervilles by Doyle, starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce


Unit 3:  The Golden Age of the Detective


“The Problem of Cell 13” by Jacques Futrelle (1905)

“The Blue Geranium” by Agatha Christie (1932)

“The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba” by Dorothy Sayers (1928)



Unit 4:  The Hardboiled Detective


“Red Wind” by Raymond Chandler (1938)  (find examples of simile)

“The House on Turk Street” by Dashiell Hammett (1923)

View the film The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Audio recording of the radio show The Shadow  (1941)


Write a hard-boiled detective story, hard-boiled detective comic, or create a pulp magazine cover


Unit 5:  Current Suspense Novel


Hold Tight by Harlan Coben (2008)


Unit 6:  The Modern Mystery

Three-week Literature Circle Unit

Small groups of 4-6 students will select a mystery book to study together.  Each student will have a role within the group and in addition is responsible for ten discussion items to be handed in upon completion of the book and a group project of writing a test over the book.  Some options include The DaVinci Code, Monkeewrench, In Cold Blood, Bones, Jude, The Innocent, Tell No One, and No Second Chance.


“Quitter’s, Inc.” by Stephen King (1978)

“On the Rocks” by J.A. Konrath (2004)

“Street Music” by J.A. Konrath (2004)

Various stories from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

Project:  View episode of current detective TV series (we will view an episode of Castle in class) and write an essay of comparison to an episode of the classic detective series, Dragnet.


The final exam is cumulative.  Save all notes and this sheet.


Grades will be based on participation in class and small group discussion, written discussion items, assignments, tests, and quizzes.  Students are individually required to read and keep a hand-written reading log of a mystery novel of their choice each quarter, which is worth approximately 10% of the final grade. This log includes notes, vocabulary, character summary, three predictions, and a half-page response to the book.  It must be turned in on the due date and will not be accepted late. (First semester Oct. 10 and Dec. 19)   If you have any questions or concerns, contact me at 895-8843, or my email address is jgage@mountvernon.k12.ia.us.



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