Winter Literary Detective Fiction (1931)

Six Tuesday evenings: March 5, 12, 19, 26, April 2, 9, 7 - 9 p.m.

$135.00 (10% off for members)

In this class, we will read some of the great literary and detective fiction, with the added fillip of exploring the history of photography and film noir so connected to the art of these three works, with both the visual and literary art shaping and reflecting our culture and collective memory in profound ways.

Beginning with the 2014 Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano’s novella, “Suspended Sentences,” from the collection of the same title, we will encounter in this signature work Modiano’s obsession with post-war Paris and the legacy of the French occupation, which echoes in the trauma experienced by the young narrator, Patouche (the French diminutive for “Patrick”) as he uncovers the layers of mystery and absence surrounding his family history and his incomplete memories of the war and its “after-image.” In richly visual terms, the autobiographical story incorporates the tropes of detection and mystery as it sustains an atmosphere of a jagged, if sepia- or grey-toned, past.

Often acknowledged as the paragon of the American hard-boiled genre, The Big Sleep is assuredly Raymond Chandler’s masterpiece, and is widely regarded as very fine fiction in any genre. It has entered our collective consciousness, if only through parodies or homages, in its tremendous influence on culture and fiction, but few have actually read the splendid novel, a deprivation this course will correct. From the snapping fresh dialogue, the genre-defining tone of world-weary cynicism, to the range of settings in the greatest noir town in the world, post-war Los Angeles, the always entertaining, sophisticated, and engrossing plot thickens, gets lost in itself, and finds it way back to poetry, as narrated by Phillip Marlowe, the honorable detective who must nevertheless go down these mean streets.

Finally, we will read the newly published highbrow mystery, The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem, who is among the most influential of contemporary writers. His first detective novel since the 1999 best-selling and award-winning Motherless Brooklyn, The Feral Detective sends us on an convoluted road trip through the California desert with detective Charles Heist (yes, Heist), who was lying low in his seedy office in a strip mall outside Los Angeles when approached by the heroic and quirky Phoebe Siegler, an easterner in a strange land, whose friend’s teenage daughter, the lovely and troubled Arabella, is missing. An engaging combination of homage to the past and command of the present in its literary style and use of detective tropes, this novel is “a wild, urgent, and very funny” ride through “weird, off-the-grid, wayward America. In his ever-more-electric prose, [Lethem] illuminates both the barbarity and the beauty.”


Reading and Discussion Schedule:

March 5: Lecture and Discussion on Detective Fiction, and on Modiano, post-war France,   and photography in WWII; “Suspended Sentences” from Suspended Sentences

March 12: Continuation of “Suspended Sentences”

March 19: Lecture and Discussion on American vs. British Detective Fiction, and on film     noir; The Big Sleep, to page 119 (end of Chapter 19)

March 26: The Big Sleep, to Conclusion

April 2: Irony and Homage: The Feral Detective, to page 170 (up to Part IV)

April 9: The Feral Detective, to Conclusion


Six Tuesday evenings: March 5, 12, 19, 26, April 2, 9, 7 - 9 p.m.


Required Books:

Suspended Sentences (1988-93; 2014 trans.) by Patrick Modiano (9780300198058)

The Feral Detective (2018) by Jonathan Lethem (9780062859068)

The Big Sleep (1939) by Raymond Chandler (9780394758282)


Recommended Additional Reading:

All works by Patrick Modiano, especially: The Occupation Trilogy (2015), Dora Bruder (2014), Honeymoon (2014), Such Fine Boys (2017), and The Sleep of Memory (2018) [Dates for the US editions translated into English are given here]

All works by Raymond Chandler, novels and short stories, especially: Farewell, My Lovely (1940) and The Long Goodbye (1953)

The Dain Curse (1928), The Maltese Falcon (1930), The Glass Key (1931), and The Thin Man (1932) by Dashiell Hammett

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (1999)

Rhonda Shary was an adjunct professor of literature, writing, and film for over ten years at SUNY New Paltz, Marymount College of Fordham University, and the New York Institute of Technology. Her poetry, fiction, and essays appear in P&P’s District Lines III and V; 100-Word Story; Water Writes: An Anthology in Honor of the Hudson River Quadricentennial; A Slant of Light: Women Writers of the Hudson River Valley, among others. After moving to DC in 2014, she joined the staff at Politics and Prose Bookstore, where she is now an editor for OPUS Publishing and an instructor in the literature and writing classes.

REFUND POLICY: Please note that we can issue class refunds up until seven (7) days before the first class session.

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Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas (The Margellos World Republic of Letters) Cover Image
By Patrick Modiano, Mark Polizzotti (Translated by)
ISBN: 9780300198058
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Yale University Press - November 11th, 2014

The Feral Detective: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062859068
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Ecco - November 6th, 2018

The Big Sleep (A Philip Marlowe Novel #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780394758282
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard - July 12th, 1988