Book Discussion–The Great Mystery Novels: A Five-Part Course with William Bernhardt - Context Travel

Book Discussion–The Great Mystery Novels: A Five-Part Course with William Bernhardt


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What are the greatest mystery novels of the 180 years since the genre was created? This course, part book club, and part symposium will consider the unique and appealing elements of the mystery in the context of its greatest authors and works. The books that we will a part of this course discussion will be The Moonstone, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Maltese Falcon, and Gone Girl.

Edgar Allan Poe may be best remembered for his horror stories, but he is also the inventor of the mystery. He wrote three tales featuring C. Auguste Dupin, the armchair detective who solved crimes through his powers of ""ratiocination."" Arthur Conan Doyle took the mystery to new heights. The enormous popularity of Sherlock Holmes led to the popularity of the mystery, its status as a separate genre, and a host of imitators.

Sherlock's imitators soon gave way to Agatha Christie, the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, and the ""fair play"" mystery. In America, the hardboiled mystery emphasized gunplay, grit, and a dark view of humanity. The latter half of the twentieth century saw the evolution of the cozy mystery, the forensic mystery, and the serial killer mystery. In the twenty-first century, the mystery has splintered into a wide variety of categories—suspense, psychological, domestic, and international thrillers, legal thrillers, and many others.

The course will travel through the 180-year history of the mystery, considering its evolution and appeal, focusing on the most successful authors and the most distinguished works. What are the essential elements that distinguish a mystery? What is the reason for the puzzle-solving appeal? Designed to appeal to voracious mystery fans and those interested in popular culture and contemporary literature, this course will root out the red herrings and uncover all the mysterious secrets.

Led by published crime writer, William Bernhardt, this multi-part course will deepen our understanding of the most critical mystery novels out there. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future reading, participants will come away with a comprehensive awareness of this literary theme.

Lecture 1: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone is generally considered to be the first detective novel. This lecture will discuss the early evolution of the mystery, beginning with Poe and ""The Murders in the Rue Morgue,"" which invented this genre soon adopted by Collins and others, including his great friend Charles Dickens, whose final unfinished novel was The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Recommended Edition: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (Penguin Classics) Introduction by Catherine Peters

Lecture 2: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Though others may have pioneered the mystery genre, Doyle made it a sensation and also created its most enduring character, Sherlock Holmes. In addition to the many Holmes short stories, Doyle wrote four novels, and ""Hound"" is usually considered the best. This lecture will discuss how Sherlock Holmes captured the imagination of readers worldwide and led to many imitators, including Raffles and Arsene Lupin, now the inspiration for the popular Netflix series Lupin.

Recommended Edition: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (Bantam Classics-Complete Sherlock Holmes Vol. 2)

Lecture 3: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The early part of the twentieth century is still considered by many to be The Golden Age of Detective Fiction. This lecture will consider the works and writers who made mysteries a modern obsession, the rules proposed for the ""fair play"" mystery, and the many works that broke the rules, including ""Roger Ackroyd,"" voted in 2013 the ""best crime novel ever"" by the Crime Writers Association.

Recommended Edition: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (William Morrow)

Lecture 4: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The American response to the cozy English country house novels was the ""hard-boiled"" school of detective fiction, often featuring seedy characters (including the detective), grit, gunplay, two-timing women, and explicit portrayals of physical violence. This lecture will consider the two writers who were the most influential stylists of the period, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and other notable contemporaries.

Recommended Edition: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)

Lecture 5: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This lecture will consider crime novels in the modern era. Mysteries continue to be popular but have splintered into many genres and subgenres, including legal thrillers (The Firm), international thrillers (The Kaiser's Web), historical/religious thrillers (The Da Vinci Code), psychological suspense, and crime novels with compelling female protagonists (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). The discussion will focus on Gone Girl, which in 2012 became an international bestseller with its blend of mystery, psychological intrigue, and unreliable narration.

Recommended Edition: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)

William Bernhardt is a scholar, teacher, author of more than fifty published works, including several New York Times-bestselling novels.  In addition to his many crime and law novels, Bernhardt has written plays, a musical (book and music), nonfiction, children's books, poetry, and created jig-saw puzzles. He was also a Champion on Season 30 of the game show Jeopardy! He is the founder and President of the Red Sneaker Writing Center which provides resources to support upcoming writers. The Center hosts the annual WriterCon in Oklahoma City and small-group seminars across the US, as well as a free monthly e-newsletter and a biweekly podcast — reaching more than 20,000 subscribers. Bernhardt has received many accolades for his writing, including an induction into the Oklahoma Writers’ Hall of Fame. He is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma College of Law and currently lives in Oklahoma with his wife and their children.

How does it work?

This is a five-part journey series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Yes. Please see the suggested readings for each lecture. Participants are encouraged to read each novel in advance of the session.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $175 for five lectures.

Is a recording available?

Yes. If you need to miss a lecture, you will be sent a recording after the event.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

Customer Reviews

Based on 2 reviews
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Colleen Casey (San Francisco, US)
Excellent in every way

I love this 5 part course. Mysteries are my favorite genre. It is wonderfully enlightening to unearth the history of this type of novel with such an engaging expert, William Bernhardt. He is, by far, my favorite of your "Conversation" speakers. I loved his discussion of the juxtaposition of the "Golden Age" English cozy novel, (Agatha Christie) with the "Hardboiled PI" American noir novel (Dashiell Hammett,) which were all written around the same time... fascinating! I also enjoyed his comparison of Hammett's style versus Chandler's... and perhaps why there were huge similarities, as well as huge differences. I'll be out of the country end of July & August, but I hope you will offer more seminars with Mr. Bernhardt in the Fall...

M
Mary Juneau-Norcross (Somerville, US)
Great Start to the Course

This book was so much fun to read! (The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins) I never would have picked it up had it not been for the class. The novel was well crafted, the epistalatory style was effective in letting the characters such as Drusilla make me LOL with her antics . I wish there could be more give and take in person rather than in the Chat. But I am looking forward to the next class. Mr. Bernhardt clearly knows his mysteries and was a great teacher.

Customer Reviews

Based on 2 reviews
50%
(1)
50%
(1)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
C
Colleen Casey (San Francisco, US)
Excellent in every way

I love this 5 part course. Mysteries are my favorite genre. It is wonderfully enlightening to unearth the history of this type of novel with such an engaging expert, William Bernhardt. He is, by far, my favorite of your "Conversation" speakers. I loved his discussion of the juxtaposition of the "Golden Age" English cozy novel, (Agatha Christie) with the "Hardboiled PI" American noir novel (Dashiell Hammett,) which were all written around the same time... fascinating! I also enjoyed his comparison of Hammett's style versus Chandler's... and perhaps why there were huge similarities, as well as huge differences. I'll be out of the country end of July & August, but I hope you will offer more seminars with Mr. Bernhardt in the Fall...

M
Mary Juneau-Norcross (Somerville, US)
Great Start to the Course

This book was so much fun to read! (The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins) I never would have picked it up had it not been for the class. The novel was well crafted, the epistalatory style was effective in letting the characters such as Drusilla make me LOL with her antics . I wish there could be more give and take in person rather than in the Chat. But I am looking forward to the next class. Mr. Bernhardt clearly knows his mysteries and was a great teacher.