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The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction

Investigate the gripping history of mystery suspense fiction with a renowned literature professor, and discover the fascinating evolution of this captivating genre.
The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 88.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! I wanted to start writing short stories in this genre and I'm glad I bought this course. It was extremely informative and put me on the right path for me. I will refer to it as needed.
Date published: 2024-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most informative I am thoroughly enjoying this series.The lecturer has a very amenable style. I'm picking up lots of ideas and perspectives about this genre. He has a thorough knowledge of the whole gammut of stories from Poe to Paretsky.Very highly recommended!
Date published: 2024-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! This is an excellent course! Professor shows his knowledge, delivery style and academic excellence in this long-form course. I think this is a must-take course in Wondrium for literature, popculture and language enthusiasts and students. I hope Wondrium will do more courses with this professor in future!
Date published: 2024-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Prof. Schmid not only describes various sub-genres, he also helped me understand *why* we have them. He explains some of the needs that they were intended to fill. Some of those needs were/are light-weight, e.g. puzzle solving. And, some were and still are more serious one having to do with our fear of living in strange and threatening places. This course also helps make sense of why and how we get so much innovation - a large audience with a pervasive desire for both more of the same *and* characters and plots that are a bit new and different.
Date published: 2024-01-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant and Entralling! Each and every one of these lectures is spellbinding. The lectures are carefully crafted and packed with fascinating information on the topic. I have been unable to resist purchasing many of the novels under discussion. Clearly one of the best lecture series offered on Wondrium!
Date published: 2023-09-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Survey with major omissions, shallow I persevered for all 36 lectures but must say I would not buy the course -- just not enough valuable information or trustworthy opinions. And as another reviewer noted, omissions. A notable one is Catherine Graham's Inspector Barnaby series which inspired the very popular 23 year series Midsommer Murders, viewed in over 200 countries now. Just an example. Survey level of discussion only, no indepth analyses or treatments to make us better readers.
Date published: 2023-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It no longer a mystery ! I bought this course many months ago and I have revisitied it several times and it has spurred me on to read quite a few stories I would not have considered had it not been for the discussions and lectures. A thoroughly interesting course and an opportunity to hear about books I would never have read or considered. Some books that were mentioned I did purchase and yes they were bad, however, some were great. I have never read any of the hardboiled mysteries until watching this course and now I am a fan of Dashiell Hammett. A very enjoyable course and highly recommended.
Date published: 2023-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mystery Solved! The lecturer was well versed in the types and examples of mystery stories. His presentation was both fun and informative. I have always enjoyed mysteries and his thematic approach gave my understanding a deeper and a broader frame. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2023-02-22
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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? In The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction, Professor David Schmid examines these questions and more.


David Schmid

Perhaps the ultimate secret to great mystery and suspense fiction is that, in one way or another, it satisfies a deep-seated desire we all have for the world around us to make sense.


University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

David Schmid is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York (SUNY). The recipient of the Milton Plesur Excellence in Teaching Award and the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching, he teaches courses in British and American fiction, cultural studies, and popular culture.

Born and raised in England, Dr. Schmid received his B.A. from Oxford University, his M.A. from the University of Sussex, and his Ph.D. in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University.

Dr. Schmid has published on a variety of subjects, including the nonfiction novel, celebrity, film adaptation, Dracula, and crime fiction. He is the author of Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in American Culture; coauthor of Zombie Talk: Culture, History, Politics; editor of Violence in American Popular Culture; and coeditor of Globalization and the State in Contemporary Crime Fiction: A World of Crime.

By This Professor

The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction
The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction


Mystery Fiction's Secret Formula

01: Mystery Fiction's Secret Formula

It shouldn't be a surprise to learn that the origins of the mystery genre are, themselves, shrouded in mystery. 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 ...

32 min
The Detective Is Born

02: The Detective Is Born

What would an inscrutable mystery be without the central figure of a detective? Usually flawed, quite often brilliant, and sometimes not even aware of their role as an investigator, this compelling character 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 character...

33 min
The Criminal

03: The Criminal

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 and popular culture. 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 su...

34 min
The Sidekick

04: The Sidekick

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. Learn how their character...

33 min
Detecting Clues

05: Detecting Clues

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....

33 min
Case Closed? The Problem with Solutions

06: Case Closed? The Problem with Solutions

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....

35 min
The Locked Room

07: The Locked Room

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, yet they remain one of the most popular and influent...

36 min
The Dime Novel

08: The Dime Novel

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. In this lecture, Professor Schmid invites you to 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 idea of em...

35 min
Murder in Cozy Places

09: Murder in Cozy Places

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. Learn how the transformation of innocuous locations brought its own se...

34 min
Return of the Classic Detective

10: Return of the Classic Detective

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. You'll also 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...

35 min
The City Tests the Detective

11: The City Tests the Detective

Whether real or fictional, the time and place in which a story is set can be a vital part of the plot when it comes to mysteries. 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 m...

32 min
The Private Eye Opens

12: The Private Eye Opens

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 on myster...

32 min
African American Mysteries

13: African American Mysteries

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 in a much broad...

30 min
The Femme Fatale

14: The Femme Fatale

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....

33 min
The Private Eye Evolves

15: The Private Eye Evolves

As the mystery genre adapted and grew in reaction to social transformations, the characters themselves evolved in new and different ways. In this lecture, Professor Schmid examines traditional examples of the private eye and compares them to a modern take on this character as illustrated by Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. While the classic private eye characters are often...

30 min
Latino Detectives on the Border

16: Latino Detectives on the Border

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, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, and Héctor Tobar in order to recognize common suspense story elements, and identify various interpretations of mystery subgenres including American ...

29 min
The Lady Detective

17: The Lady Detective

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 - a history that goes much further back than you might expect - and examines how even at the earliest stages, the figure of the female detective assum...

32 min
Violence Waits in the Wings

18: Violence Waits in the Wings

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. Study the different forms that vi...

30 min
Violence Takes Center Stage

19: Violence Takes Center Stage

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....

29 min
Psychopaths and Mind Hunters

20: Psychopaths and Mind Hunters

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, often making the incentive a thrilli...

32 min
Police as Antagonist

21: Police as Antagonist

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, forcing the detective to work outside the law; stories where the detective is ambivalent, only using the police as a helpful resource to provide inside information; stories where the det...

32 min
Police as Protagonist

22: Police as Protagonist

The shift of the role of police from a passive, outside observer to an active participant in the mystery genre, and even protagonists of their own variety, came about with the emergence of the police procedural. Journeying from Maigret to Dragnet, and exploring authors such as Georges Simenon, John Creasey, Ed McBain, and Chester Himes, you'll see how the police procedural started as an attempt to...

29 min
Native American Mysteries

23: Native American Mysteries

Further demonstrating the expansive universe of the mystery genre, Professor Schmid uncovers the understudied world of Native American writers and characters. He reveals how the context of Native American settings has changed many of the classic elements you find in a traditional whodunit. You'll learn why tribal police, jurisdictional limitations, and cultural conflicts, among other factors, all ...

29 min
The European Mystery Tradition

24: The European Mystery Tradition

Whether set in Europe, featuring European characters, or written by European authors, there is no denying the richness and variety of European mystery fiction. 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, w...

32 min
Nordic Noir

25: Nordic Noir

The last decade has seen Nordic noir-dark mysteries written by Nordic writers and set in Scandinavian countries-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 not only showcased mystery, but also provided a socially c...

30 min
Japanese and Latin American Mysteries

26: Japanese and Latin American Mysteries

Discover the works of mystery and suspense fiction writers from outside America, Europe, and Scandinavia. You'll start in early 20th Japan with Taro Hirai, and travel through to modern Japanese suspense writers such as Natsuo Kirino. Then, travel to Africa to learn about the popular series The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and discover the lesser-known Darko Dawson series. In Latin America,...

33 min
Precursors to True Crime

27: Precursors to True Crime

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 and sermons, which opened the door to true crime novels and demonstrated how mystery and suspense fiction and real-life stories have always influenced e...

33 min
True Crime in the 20th Century

28: True Crime in the 20th Century

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....

31 min
Historical Mysteries

29: Historical Mysteries

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, highlighting the changes between today and yesterday and educating readers while providing an entertaining story. Professor Schmid introduces you to two types of historical mysteries and s...

30 min
Spies, Thrillers, and Conspiracies

30: Spies, Thrillers, and Conspiracies

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, including James Bond, The DaVinci Code, George Smiley?examining the rea...

30 min
Female-Centered Mystery and Suspense

31: Female-Centered Mystery and Suspense

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 mystery and suspense 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 nuance...

30 min
Poetic Justice

32: Poetic Justice

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....

30 min
Courtroom Drama

33: Courtroom Drama

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. From documentaries such as Making a Murderer and the podcast Serial to ...

31 min
Gay and Lesbian Mystery and Suspense

34: Gay and Lesbian Mystery and Suspense

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....

29 min
Adapting the Multimedia Mystery

35: Adapting the Multimedia Mystery

The most famous characters in mystery and suspense are often revisited again and again in many forms. Among a variety of enlightening examples, 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...

30 min
Mysterious Experiments

36: Mysterious Experiments

Professor Schmid concludes the course by re-examining all the ways the mystery and suspense genre has adapted, yet continued to remain true to its core successful elements. He speculates 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 f...

32 min