The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction

Watch The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction

  • 2016
  • 1 Season

Great mystery and suspense writers have created some of the most unforgettable stories in all of literature and they continue to grow in popularity. How did the genre become so prevalent? Why is it a go-to for so many readers around the world? What makes the dark and sometimes grisly themes appealing? Professor David Schmid examines these questions and more in this illuminating course.

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Mysterious Experiments
36. Mysterious Experiments
November 11, 2016
Professor Schmid concludes the course by speculating on modern changes such as mash-ups with other literary genres, twist endings, and lack of resolution. You'll wrap up with a review of the evolution of the mystery and suspense books, and why this is a golden age for fans as the genre continues to grow in popularity.
Adapting the Multimedia Mystery
35. Adapting the Multimedia Mystery
November 11, 2016
The most famous characters in mystery and suspense are often revisited again and again in many forms. Professor Schmid takes you through a number of variations of Sherlock Holmes, from versions that perfectly represented the original intent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to depictions of Watson being the brains behind the duo, while Holmes is more of a bumbling buffoon.
Gay and Lesbian Mystery and Suspense
34. Gay and Lesbian Mystery and Suspense
November 11, 2016
Examine the reasons for the popularity of gay and lesbian mystery and suspense fiction, focusing in particular on how these narratives both draw upon and selectively reinterpret elements of the tradition from which they emerge. You'll learn how the traditional components of mystery novels were reinvigorated by the emergence of gay and lesbian characters.
Courtroom Drama
33. Courtroom Drama
November 11, 2016
A majority of mysteries conclude as soon as the crime is solved; once a criminal was apprehended, there was no motivation to read further. Professor Schmid discusses how the genre moved beyond this and court procedurals became not just a component of mysteries, but in some cases, the setting or secondary plot point of a story.
Poetic Justice
32. Poetic Justice
November 11, 2016
Often a staple in mysteries, poetic justice is frequently used to help the reader feel a sense of satisfaction in the ending, especially in a genre where many mystery and suspense tales are simply uninterested in legal proceedings and aftermath. Professor Schmid defines poetic justice, discusses why there is so much of it in the genre, and outlines the many reasons why we find it satisfying.
Female-Centered Mystery and Suspense
31. Female-Centered Mystery and Suspense
November 11, 2016
In this lecture, women step out of the three traditional roles they are typically reduced to in the mystery and suspense genre: victim, femme fatale, or detective. By examining a variety of books over the last century, Professor Schmid looks at both the good and the bad roles of women in the genre and how these stories have elevated female characters to more complex and nuanced roles.
Spies, Thrillers, and Conspiracies
30. Spies, Thrillers, and Conspiracies
November 11, 2016
Start this section by comparing and contrasting mystery and suspense genres through the lens of realism and how spy and conspiracy suspense novels often take realism one step further by incorporating real world geopolitical and global concerns to enhance verisimilitude. You'll explore the most famous spy and conspiracy novels, examining the real-life political circumstances of each period.
Historical Mysteries
29. Historical Mysteries
November 11, 2016
Explore how many writers take the foundational elements of mystery and suspense and move them to earlier periods of history, often mixing true events and historical facts with fictional characters or situations. Professor Schmid introduces you to two types of historical mysteries and showcases a number of examples to understand why historical mysteries are so popular among their legions of fans.
True Crime in the 20th Century
28. True Crime in the 20th Century
November 11, 2016
Spend some time focusing on the modern forms of true crime, which Professor Schmid notes are integrally related to mystery and suspense fiction as the genre draws upon both fiction and nonfiction techniques to achieve its effects. He also demonstrates how true crime stories were disparaged as trivial and damaging yet overcame unscrupulous reputations to become mainstream successes.
Precursors to True Crime
27. Precursors to True Crime
November 11, 2016
Professor Schmid moves away from fiction to look at the novelization of true crime stories. Although considered a modern phenomenon, he traces examples back to 16th century America, where they rose to prominence through sensationalist news stories, which opened the door to true crime novels and demonstrated how mystery and suspense fiction and real-life stories have always influenced each other.
Japanese and Latin American Mysteries
26. Japanese and Latin American Mysteries
November 11, 2016
Take an international journey starting in early 20th century Japan with Taro Hirai to modern Japanese suspense writers such as Natsuo Kirino. Then, travel to Africa and discover the lesser-known Darko Dawson series. In Latin America, you'll look in depth at two influential contributors: Leonardo Padura Fuentes and Paco Ignacio Taibo II.
Nordic Noir
25. Nordic Noir
November 11, 2016
The last decade has seen Nordic noir enter the American mainstream, though they have been popular in their homeland for half a century. Professor Schmid takes you through this progressive form of mystery and suspense fiction, showing how many examples of Nordic noir provided a socially conscious look at powerful themes such as complicity with the Nazis, racism, misogyny, corruption, and class.
The European Mystery Tradition
24. The European Mystery Tradition
November 11, 2016
Inheriting the legacy of mystery and suspense from American writers, Europe took the genre far more seriously. Travel through France, Germany, Italy, and Spain to see how the genre manages to address location-specific issues and cultures, while maintaining the core elements of a successful mystery and suspense story.
Police as Antagonist
21. Police as Antagonist
November 11, 2016
Sometimes cast as helpful, sometimes as a hindrance, the police are typically prominent players in mysteries and suspense novels. Professor Schmid reviews stories where the police are at odds with the protagonist; stories where the detective is ambivalent; stories where the detective and police work together affably; and stories where the detective is (or was) on the actual police force.
Psychopaths and Mind Hunters
20. Psychopaths and Mind Hunters
November 11, 2016
In the last century, with the increased interest and research into how our minds work, the concept of whydunit became just as intriguing as the concept of whodunit. Once authors began to reverse the traditional methods of mystery by revealing the killer in the early parts of the story, they had to explore new ways to motivate readers to continue to the end.
Violence Takes Center Stage
19. Violence Takes Center Stage
November 11, 2016
Building upon the insights revealed in the previous lecture, you'll examine mysteries that don't use any violence and compare them to stories that are borderline gratuitous in the depiction or details of violent acts. You'll also explore the rise of violence in mysteries, starting with a peak period in the wartime 1940s through to the present and discuss the reasons why.
Violence Waits in the Wings
18. Violence Waits in the Wings
November 11, 2016
Much like the setting and the character, the use or lack of violence, and the amount and intensity depicted, can provide more clarity into the mystery you're trying to solve. And, much like the guidelines about using clues in suspense writing, there are so many exceptions to the rules of using violence that the rules themselves may need to be called into question.
The Lady Detective
17. The Lady Detective
November 11, 2016
From complicated clients to lusty love interests, from sprightly sidekick to detail-oriented detectives, women have always played a role in mystery and suspense fiction. Professor Schmid introduces you to female detectives in literature through time and examines how even at the earliest stages, the figure of the female detective assumed a wide variety of types to appeal to different audiences.
Latino Detectives on the Border
16. Latino Detectives on the Border
November 11, 2016
Stepping back to once again take a multicultural look at mystery and suspense, Professor Schmid examines the world of Hispanic writers and characters. Examine over a century of work and authors including Rolando Hinojosa and Hector Tobar in order to recognize common suspense story elements, and identify various interpretations of mystery subgenres including American hard-boiled crime fiction.
The Femme Fatale
14. The Femme Fatale
November 11, 2016
One of the most iconic characters in mystery is that of the femme fatale. Uncover the many iterations of this definitive character and the different approaches writers have used to present the femme fatale, while always staying true to the basic essence of the character. Understand why this role is key and how it has become symbolic of noir and hard boiled classics.
African American Mysteries
13. African American Mysteries
November 11, 2016
Professor Schmid challenges the stereotypical lack of diversity in most mystery and suspense fiction by presenting the contribution that writers from other races and ethnicities have made to the genre. By investigating both black writers and black characters, you'll see how black mystery fiction views crime not just in terms of challenges and solutions, but also in terms of justice.
The Private Eye Opens
12. The Private Eye Opens
November 11, 2016
Often confused with the detective, the private eye is different from the classical version of the detective in terms of motivation, methods, lifestyle, and beliefs, and is the major contribution of American hard-boiled fiction. Comparing a vast selection of stories across history, you'll isolate the differences between the two crime-solvers and understand the different impacts each had.
The City Tests the Detective
11. The City Tests the Detective
November 11, 2016
Professor Schmid reveals how the city is often portrayed as more than merely a backdrop, but rather as a character, as much so as the detective, sidekick, or criminal. Chaos, noise, pollution, crowds, danger, traffic - each of these traits associated with urban areas do more than set a scene: they can have an impact on getting the information vital to solving the case.
Return of the Classic Detective
10. Return of the Classic Detective
November 11, 2016
Revisit the role of the detective through the lens of the Golden Age of fiction, including the hard-boiled crime fiction of the early 20th century. Examine how social influences such as prohibition and the mafia impacted this subgenre. Explore how the element of theater and empowering the audience to solve the mysteries made a lasting mark on the role of the protagonist in crime novels.
Murder in Cozy Places
9. Murder in Cozy Places
November 11, 2016
As society changed, and the grim story lines of mystery and suspense more often reflected harsh reality, a new type of novel emerged to keep the audience shaken. Authors began springing shocking situations in what were typically considered safe environments: dinner parties, countryside estates, utopian suburban neighborhoods.
The Dime Novel
8. The Dime Novel
November 11, 2016
The dime novels of the 19th century are often considered cheap, serialized pulp fiction, but proved to be a turning point in the history of suspense fiction. Take a new look at a variety of dime novel publications and delve into how an important characteristic of mystery and suspense fiction originated with these throw-away stories.
The Locked Room
7. The Locked Room
November 11, 2016
Having reviewed the essential components of a successful mystery, Professor Schmid moves to the various subgenres of mystery and suspense, starting with the locked-room stories popular during the Victorian age. Look at how these puzzle-like stories are often dismissed due to formulaic scenarios that have to abide by a certain set of conventions, but still remain popular today.
Case Closed? The Problem with Solutions
6. Case Closed? The Problem with Solutions
November 11, 2016
Once you have perfected the components already reviewed - a detective, a criminal, clues, and potentially a sidekick - all that remains is solving the mystery. But as you'll learn in this lecture, it's never that simple. Learn what makes for the perfect big reveal and why you don't necessarily need one. See how open-ended mysteries walk the line between frustrating and compelling.
Detecting Clues
5. Detecting Clues
November 11, 2016
The clue is so imperative to the successful mystery story that there are few elements more subject to rules and regulations. Yet for all the requirements around how, when, and why to present clues, this narrative element is highly subjective. In this lecture, you'll learn how clues are used to help, hinder, mislead, and solve mysteries, for both the characters and the audience.
The Sidekick
4. The Sidekick
November 11, 2016
Where would a Sherlock be without a Watson? The story of the sidekick isn't required in a successful mystery but they remain pivotal and entertaining characters who deserve their own deep dive. Follow the diverse cast that fulfilled the many roles sidekicks play, from the straight man in what could be a very long joke to the secret brilliant mind behind every solved case.
The Criminal
3. The Criminal
November 11, 2016
On the other end of the spectrum from the detective, we find the criminal. Equally important to the success of the story, explore a fascinating cast of notorious characters who have survived through the annals of time. Spend this lecture looking at the cat-and-mouse games that law enforcement and criminals play as you learn just how vital getting this balance right is to the success of the story.
The Detective Is Born
2. The Detective Is Born
November 11, 2016
Usually flawed, quite often brilliant, and sometimes not even aware of their role, the dectective is a staple of the genre. This lecture will scrutinize the many ways the detective has been portrayed across stories and series over time, revealing similarities between a variety of characters that make even the most unique detectives oddly familiar.
Mystery Fiction's Secret Formula
1. Mystery Fiction's Secret Formula
November 11, 2016
Delve into the controversial viewpoints on what the first true mystery novel was, study important components of early mysteries and writers, including Poe, Doyle, and Christie - and why their work continues to influence modern day stories. Then, examine the different types of stories that fall under the mystery and suspense label.

Great mystery and suspense writers have created some of the most unforgettable stories in all of literature and they continue to grow in popularity. How did the genre become so prevalent? Why is it a go-to for so many readers around the world? What makes the dark and sometimes grisly themes appealing? Professor David Schmid examines these questions and more in this illuminating course.

The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (33 episodes). The series first aired on November 11, 2016.

Where to Watch The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction

The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction is available for streaming on the The Great Courses Signature Collection website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction on demand at Kanopy.

  • Premiere Date
    November 11, 2016