Book Discussion – Classic Mystery Novel Puzzles: A Five-Part Course with William Bernhardt

Book Discussion – Classic Mystery Novel Puzzles: 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 read and discuss together will be The Woman in White, A Study in Scarlet, And Then There Were None, The Thin Man, and Presumed Innocent.

Please note: this five-part course presents a different collection of classic novels than Bernhardt's 2021 edition of the course, which can
be found here.

Our discussions 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 multi-published crime writer and mystery expert 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 Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Woman in White is often considered the first modern suspense novel or thriller. Our first lecture will discuss the early evolution of crime fiction. We begin 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.

Lecture 2: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Though others may have pioneered the mystery genre, Doyle made it a sensation and created its most enduring character, Sherlock Holmes. In addition to the many Holmes short stories, Doyle wrote four novels–A Study in Scarlet was the first. 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.

Lecture 3: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
The twentieth-century period between the world wars is still considered 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. And Then There Were None is Christie's most popular and best-selling novel.

Lecture 4: The Thin Man 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.

Lecture 5: Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
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 Presumed Innocent, which became an international bestseller with its blend of mystery, psychological intrigue, and courtroom drama.

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 mystery 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 series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture. 

When will I receive the Zoom link?
Your link to enter the Zoom room will be the same for all ten sessions. It will be sent to the email address used to place your order 30 minutes prior to each lecture's start time.

Is there a reading list in advance?
Yes, participants are encouraged to read each novel in advance of the session.
For Presumed Innocent and And Then There Were None, there are many reliable editions that are not difficult to find. For our three additional novels, our expert recommends these editions:
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (Penguin Classics)
  • A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (Penguin Classics)
  • Dashiell Hammett: Complete Novels (including The Thin Man) (Library of America)

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 USD for five lectures.

Is a recording available?
Yes. All registered participants will be sent a recording link within 48 hours of each session's conclusion.

Are there additional seminars, courses, and in-person experiences being led by William Bernhardt?
Yes!  William Bernhardt will be leading several virtual experiences in the coming weeks. Details are available here.

This conversation is suitable for all ages.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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